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Hudson Valley Visiting Pets Bring Comfort and Cheer to the Community

Hudson Valley Visiting Pets Bring Comfort and Cheer to the Community

Dogs and other animals that participate in the Hudson Valley Visiting Pets Program bring animal-assisted therapy to nursing homes, hospitals, schools, juvenile detention centers, and more, spreading cheer and comfort to special communities.

therapy dog

“The contact is brief, but it brightens the entire day for people, and in a lot of cases, the animal visit is transforming,” says Dolores Schaub, co-founder and program director of Hudson Valley Visiting Pets Program.

When Dolores Schaub rescued a Doberman pinscher from someone’s basement 20 years ago, she knew she rescued an incredible dog—she just didn’t know how incredible it was.

“I was running an animal shelter at that time, and we were getting calls for people to bring animals from the shelter into facilities like nursing homes,” Schaub says. She decided to take her Doberman pinscher, Shannon, to the nursing home, and what happened next brought tears to the nursing home staff’s eyes. 

“The nursing home’s activity director took us to the activity room to meet with Mr. Jones, who had a vision problem. He was on the other side of the room. [Shannon] picked up her head…and pulled me across the floor right to [Mr. Jones]. The man had his head down on the table, his head on his arms, and Shannon went under his elbow…[he] blossomed like a flower,” Schaub says. “It was so touching that this dog had this intuitive ability to know who needed some cheering up. From that point on, I could see the power of the pooch, and that some dogs have the intuitive insight to zero in on people that have challenges, or emotional issues, or mental issues.”

After that visit, Schaub decided to have Shannon evaluated and credentialed with Delta Society—now Pet Partners—a therapy animal and handler training nonprofit. Schaub then founded Hudson Valley Visiting Pets Program with CJ Puotinen, a nonprofit group that brings animals to various locations for animal-assisted therapy and activities.

Hudson Valley Visiting Pets Program volunteers bring their pets—mainly dogs, but cats, birds, rabbits, and guinea pigs have participated, too—to various facilities, including nursing homes, hospitals, schools, and juvenile detention centers, to participate in animal-assisted activities to cheer people up by giving them contact with a calm, friendly, nonjudgmental animal. HVVPP also features animal-assisted education, in which the visiting pets help people of all ages learn about animal behavior.

“Our goal is to foster a caring, compassionate relationship with those that we visit, all the while enhancing communication, social interaction, education, and companionship,” says Schaub, co-founder and program director. “Our program is made up of volunteers, and we provide the service with no charge.”

Each of the approximately 30 volunteers with HVVPP and their dogs go through a rigorous training program to learn about etiquette, safety, diseases, food avoidance, medical equipment, and strange and unusual petting and outbursts. The most important part of the training is learning to recognize stress in the animal so the handler knows when to remove the dog from a situation, Schaub says.

One of HVVPP’s most popular programs is R.E.A.D. (Reading Education Assistance Dogs): Handlers will bring dogs to local libraries so kids can read to them for 15 minutes, or handlers will sign up for a 10-week session in a school where they work with a reading teacher and children with reading difficulties.

“Many of the children who’ve worked with us, especially in the school settings, have issues. We don’t necessarily discuss exactly what those issues are, but they’re usually in the program because they have learning issues. This program seems to make the barriers sort of fall away, and they’re able to relax and focus and concentrate more,” says Risa Hoag, HVVPP’s R.E.A.D. instructor, who is licensed with Intermountain Therapy Animals.

“We have found that children’s hygiene has improved, their love for reading improves, and their confidence improves because there’s not someone there judging them or correcting them the whole time,” Schaub says.

Schaub says HVVPP will also work one-on-one with physical, occupational, and speech therapists.

Hudson Valley Visiting Pets Program will visit facilities in Rockland, Westchester, Orange, and Bergen counties. For more information, visit hudsonvalleyvisitingpets.com.

 

Also see:

How service animals can help children with autism