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Pet therapy brings its rewards

Tess Ewart takes Griffin the cat out for a walk. More volunteers are needed to help those in need find companionship through pet therapy.

Tess Ewart takes Griffin the cat out for a walk. More volunteers are needed to help those in need find companionship through pet therapy. Courtesy photo

Pet owners know first-hand that dogs and cats love unconditionally; they are there when the person needs a hug or a smile.

This love and acceptance make dogs and cats ideal therapeutic visitors for the elderly and disabled in nursing homes and care facilities.

Furry Friends, a non-profit, no kill cat rescue organization in Clark County, has been operating a pet therapy visitation program to area nursing facilities and assisted living centers since its inception in 1999.

The program’s first therapeutic visitors were cats that lived in the shelter. Later, volunteers brought their own well behaved, docile cat or dog to interact with the residents.

“Faces light up when we bring our pets,” says Susan Anderson, who heads the pet therapy program. “It’s a thrill to watch the people shower love and affection on the dogs and cats — and to watch the pets return that love. For many people, the pets’ visit is the highlight of their day.”

Anderson evaluates potential volunteers and their pets. “A well-trained friendly pet can bring a smile to a sad face,” she says. “People who rarely interact with other people may shine when they have a chance to talk to, touch or cuddle a dog or cat. It’s a wonderful experience.”

When she’s not visiting homes with her dog Shasta, Anderson is a deputy fire marshal. She also volunteers for the Oregon Humane Society Technical Animal Rescue (OHSTAR) team, which rescues animals in trouble in the wild. For example, if a dog falls off a cliff while hiking with its owner, the team responds to the scene to attempt a rescue. She has a big heart for people and animals.

Benefits of pet therapy

The human-animal bond is a mutually beneficial relationship, and studies have proven that interaction with pets is an effective method of stress reduction, lowered blood pressure, and increased sense of well-being in patients and staff. Residents report that loneliness, helplessness, and boredom have yielded to companionship, self-sufficiency and a sense of joy. Plus, the pets love it.

Just volunteer

No special volunteer training is required, but pets must be well groomed, respond to basic commands and have current licensing and vaccinations.

Most importantly, pet parents need to be reliable. The care center residents and staff very much look forward to the visits. Advance notice is requested if you have to miss an appointment. Our human/pet teams are welcome to schedule one or more visits each month, each typically lasting about an hour. Our partner care facilities are located throughout Clark County.

About Furry Friends

Furry Friends is dedicated to offering animal visits as therapy to local residents of nursing homes and assisted living centers. We provide regular visits of therapy animals that can be held, stroked, or just talked to as a means of providing stimulation and interaction with residents and staff.

Furry Friends is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, no-kill organization that rescues and adopts out homeless, relinquished, and abused cats in Clark County. We care for the kitties as long as it takes to find their forever home. We are an all-volunteer organization; there is no paid staff.

For more information or to inquire about volunteering, see the Furry Friends website at furryfriendswa.org or contact information@furry-friendswa.org or leave a message at 360-993-1097.

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