There are few things in life that can bring more immediate joy to a person than love from an animal. Bringing delight to the people who need it most is the focus of the Richmond SPCA’s Paws for Health program. Paws for Health is a volunteer-based pet visitation program in which trained volunteers and their own carefully screened pets visit local hospitals, nursing homes and retirement communities.
As we celebrate our volunteers during National Volunteer Appreciation Week, it should be noted that not all of the Richmond SPCA’s volunteers spend their time inside the Robins-Starr Humane Center – some give their time on behalf of the organization by carrying our mission to the community. A special group focuses their attention on how the sunny dispositions of therapy dogs can brighten the days of those going through difficult times.
The Paws for Health program has been in existence for more than a decade and was created by Dr. Kevin Connelly, former Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at MCV, in alliance with the Richmond SPCA. In developing the program he spent a year reviewing research, learning about other pet therapy programs, and creating strict guidelines for safety, health maintenance and risk reduction to exceed hospital standards. In combination with the vibrant volunteer corps of the Richmond SPCA and training services we offer, Paws for Health has thrived.
Our therapy teams are so consistent in their volunteering that they become staples in care facilities. For instance, Brenda Bracheau and her dog, Benny, frequently visit St. Joseph's Little Sisters of the Poor as a part of the Paws for Health program. Residents mark their calendars and await Brenda and Benny’s visits with great enthusiasm. Thanks to training from Brenda, Benny knows exactly how to interact with elderly residents no matter their limitations. Benny greets each resident with a balance of gentleness and enthusiasm, and for that moment, Benny is all that matters. His company never fails to bring up stories of family pets, laughter over his tricks and kisses and something to look forward to in the near future. Some residents even keep dog treats in their rooms just for Benny’s visits.
Besides the joy Paws for Health brings to residents in our community, the program also creates all sorts of connections. To become a part of the Paws for Health program, volunteer handlers and their canines complete a number of requirements including a therapy dog certification, an application process and multiple shadowing visits, allowing both guardian and dog to better understand one another. Once the duo is officially a Paws for Health team and can visit care facilities on their own, an entirely new level of connections begin to form as the volunteer teams interact with residents in the community. With the company of a dog, anxieties over health and life melt away and volunteers and residents become quick friends. Like Brenda and Benny, these volunteer pairs become familiar faces at the facilities they visit, bringing happiness into the lives of those who need it, and embodying the mission of Paws for Health.
For more information about Paws for Health, please visit www.richmondspca.org/pawsforhealth.
Abbey Howarth is the Richmond SPCA's communications specialist. To read the biographies of our regular bloggers, please click here. Before posting a comment, please review our comment guidelines. Please note that our comment policy requires a first and last name to be used as your screen name.