A helping paw
Keeping owners with their pets. Providing extra eyes and ears. Like Therapetics, these animal organizations are making a difference in the lives of Tulsans and people statewide.
Pet Peace of Mind
Hospice of Green Country, Inc. in Tulsa developed Pet Peace of Mind to assist hospice patients who are unable to maintain appropriate routine health care and nutrition for their pets. The program recently secured funding from the Banfield Charitable Trust, a national public charity that focuses on pets, and will soon be used as a model for nonprofit hospices throughout the country.
The goal of Pet Peace of Mind is to keep pets and their owners together and to make that as financially feasible as possible, program coordinator Delana Taylor McNac says.
The program provides a variety of services to patients, including veterinary care and assistance with pet food and cat litter. It also arranges pet boarding or pet sitting in case of patient hospitalization and coordinates pet transportation to nursing facilities for visits.
McNac points to many studies showing that pets can help promote humans’ health and well-being. For many people, pets fill an important void, she explains.
“We find that with some hospice patients, pets are the only family they have,” McNac says. “Pets sometimes represent a relationship they’ve had in the past, such as with a deceased spouse, or they can be surrogate children for empty nesters or people who never had children. Many times, they are simply a companion or best friend and provide a social outlet for people.”
This Oklahoma City-based nonprofit trains two types of hearing dogs that alert their deaf or hard-of-hearing owners throughout the state to everyday sounds they cannot perceive.
“Fully certified hearing dogs” undergo extensive training to accompany their owners in public, alerting them to emergency vehicles or other sounds. “Home companion dogs” are trained to work only in the home and might alert their owner to a smoke alarm, timer or doorbell.
Both types of dogs require varying levels of obedience, sound, socialization and home training by Dog Ears professional trainers and dog recipients. Length of training depends on the individual dog and can range from six weeks to two years for full certification.
Dog Ears trains and kennels fewer than 10 of its own hearing dogs at one time, but the group often trains dogs already belonging to people with hearing disabilities. The service is free of charge but requires a training commitment on the part of the dog owner.
“We can usually certify a person’s dog if they already have one, as long as the dog meets our qualifications,” says T.J. Radle, Dog Ears administrative and training assistant.
Hearing dogs can dramatically increase the social interaction and independence of the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Those who are deaf cannot hear conversations around them or know who might be approaching them with malicious intent, Radle says.
“Your level of adrenaline is always high (because you’re so dependent on your sight),” she explains. “These dogs are trained to watch, so that if the person watches the dog, they’ll be aware of what’s going on and will be able to relax.”
Canine Companions for Independence
Canine Companions for Independence is the largest nonprofit provider of assistance dogs in the world. Based in California, the organization breeds, raises and trains service dogs for work nationwide.
Individuals with disabilities must go through a screening process, including phone and in-person interviews, to become a CCI client. After acceptance into the program, they travel to one of five CCI training centers, where they work with Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers and crosses of these two breeds to find one that’s right for them and their particular personality and disability.
After program “graduation,” clients are required to participate in a follow-up program to ensure they’ve kept up their dog’s service skills. To date, five CCI graduates live in Oklahoma, including one in Broken Arrow. The group has a volunteer chapter office in Shawnee as well as five puppy raisers located throughout the state.
CCI client and volunteer Dawn Ramsey lives in Shawnee, Okla., and has Meniere’s disease, an inner ear disorder that has affected her overall hearing and made her deaf in one ear. She also uses a wheelchair. Her service dog helps her with day-to-day tasks and alerts her to sounds she can’t detect while driving. The dog has even kept her from being struck by a train.
“A bond just forms so that they go way beyond the call of duty,” she says. “These dogs make all the difference in the world.”
A gentle nudge from man’s best friend just may be some of the best modern-day medicine.
For the past three years, John Marquis and Lyn Anderson have been overseeing a program for therapy dogs at Asbury United Methodist Church.
“We’re called Pets Are Working Saints, or PAWS for short,” Marquis says.
A program that helps guide and certify potential therapy dogs, PAWS requires that participating dogs spend up to six months going through multiple screenings and tests before becoming registered.
“The dogs have to be obedient,” Marquis says. “They come in a group, and we see how they behave with other dogs and people. I throw marshmallows on the ground to make sure they don’t eat anything, or pick up what could be someone’s medication.”
Training includes group sessions and at least three supervised visits to local nursing homes or hospitals.
PAWS registers working pets through Therapy Dogs Inc., a national umbrella organization that has standardized rules and regulations for the canines, and provides liability insurance for handlers.
While some therapy pets are specifically trained to help those with disabilities, these canines are sent to area hospitals, hospices and nursing homes solely as a cheerful, comforting companion.
Beth McCalman, Asbury’s Oklahoma Outreach coordinator, knows first-hand just how much these furry friends can mean to an ailing patient.
“When my mother was in the hospital recently, someone brought in a black poodle (through another program), and she got the biggest kick out of that little dog,” McCalman says. “People are drawn to them because the dogs just let (the patients) pet them — it’s soothing.”
Asbury’s training sessions usually consist of about nine dogs and handlers, and church membership is not required to participate.
For more information about the PAWS program, call Beth McCalman at 492-1771.