One of the finest qualities we see in our pets is unconditional love, particularly with dogs. Dogs do not discriminate against people. It doesn’t matter if you are rich, poor, old, young, male or female, your dog loves you just the way you are. This is why therapy dogs are becoming increasingly popular when it comes to volunteer opportunities.
What is a therapy dog?
Therapy dogs are different from service animals. Therapy dogs are volunteers in the community that give unconditional love. One of the many ways therapy dogs and their handlers volunteer is in nursing homes. The therapy team visits residents for a chance to spend some time getting and giving love to a dog. Another popular program locally is the “Sit, Stay Read!” Program at the Fayetteville Public Library. This program pairs an emerging reader with a therapy dog to make reading a positive learning experience. Children read aloud to the dog in this non-judgmental atmosphere which boosts confidence and improves reading skills.
These are just a few of the many programs that utilize therapy dogs. There is a local group that meets monthly to promote and assist with therapy dog teams. Helping Paws of NWA meets the first Thursday of every month at Peace Lutheran in Rogers at 6:30 p.m. Leashed, well behaved dogs are welcome and they love getting interested people involved with therapy dog work.
How do I get my dog certified?
To become a certified therapy dog, your dog must be evaluated by one of the nationally recognized organizations. Testing includes basic obedience (sit, stay, down, come, etc) as well as in situations like meeting strangers, getting hugs, aggressive petting and being around medical equipment including wheelchairs and crutches. Don’t worry if your dog needs some work in some of these areas, there are plenty of local classes to get you and your dog prepared.
Delta Society not only certifies dogs for therapy work, they will evaluate any pet. The local evaluator has certified horses, cats, bunnies, even a chicken! Of course other animals have to pass different requirements but they are all temper tested in various scenarios they might encounter during therapy work.
What about other animal assisted organizations?
Equestrian Bridges in Fayetteville and Horses for Healing in Bentonville utilize horses for therapeutic purposes. Both programs rely heavily on volunteers for the success of the program and participants. These volunteer opportunities are perfect for a person that enjoys children and horses.
If you love helping dogs and cats in need, consider volunteering at a local animal shelter! Fayetteville, Springdale and Washington County shelters are all in need of volunteers to help dogs and cats find ‘forever’ homes. Volunteer opportunities include photography for the Petfinder ads, dog walkers for on-site exercise, event volunteers to get dogs out and about in the community and volunteers in the office. The neat thing about these opportunities is that they are very flexible depending on what you sign up for. You never know, you could meet your new soul mate.
Happy tails with your volunteer adventures!