“One of the things we notice is a therapy dog really changes the energy of a room,” noted Greer Griffith, Director of Programs at Angel on a Leash.
Last year, Southampton Hospital partnered with Angel on a Leash for a pet therapy program at the Hospital, which they are looking to expand in 2015. Volunteers from the Angel on A Leash program visit patients twice a week to help brighten their day. Currently, the pet therapy program has two volunteer dogs and their handlers, including Jane May Moss, who helped start the program at Southampton Hospital. This year, the Hospital hopes to recruit even more volunteers and expand the program to more than two days a week.
So what makes a good volunteer candidate? “I think the handler needs to know their dog really well,” noted Debbie Mays, who coordinates the pet therapy program at Southampton Hospital. “That relationship between a dog and its handler is really important.” Both Griffith and Mays say it’s important for the dogs to be confident and social. There must be an immense amount of trust towards their handler, and they must respond calmly when put in strange or new situations. “A good handler is priceless,” Griffith said. “They need to be able to act confident and relaxed.”
Participating dogs are carefully vetted and must be registered through Pet Partners, a nonprofit organization that trains animals and handlers for assisted therapy programs nationwide; to make sure they are good candidates. Angel on a Leash help train animals for the volunteer process and prepare volunteers and their dogs for the registry process. “Handlers should always attend to their animals first and be able to anticipate their animal’s responses,” noted Griffith.
Once registered and approved for the program, participants stop by the Hospital with their dog and receive a patient list from Jane Edelman, Clinical Coordinator of Palliative Care and Manager of the Hospital’s Pet Therapy Program. Volunteers then visit with each patient for approximately five to twenty minutes. When deciding on how long to stay with each patient, Griffith says it really depends on the day and how the patient is feeling. “There’s not really a formula,” explained Griffith. “You start to develop a feeling. Sometimes patients are too tired or too sick for a visit.”
“Sharing the beautiful bond that these two have, that’s when the magic happens,” Mays added.
You can learn more about volunteering during Southampton Hospital’s Pet Partners’ Therapy Animal Handler Course at Parrish Memorial Hall on Saturday, May 2nd from 1 to 7 p.m. Admission is $100 or $70 for Southampton Hospital staff. The course fee includes a handbook, handouts, coffee, tea, and snacks. To register, contact Debbie Mays at [email protected] or 646-469-8543.
Southampton Hospital, Parrish Memorial Hall is located at 235 Herrick Road in Southampton. For more information, visit www.southamptonhospital.org .