Hudson Valley Humane Society
Visiting Pet Program
In the News
Providing Animal Assisted Activity and Animal Assisted Therapy since 1994.
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Journal News Article
OUR PILOT R.E.A.D. PROGRAM AT SLOATSBURG ELEMENTARY SCHOOL FEATURED IN THE JOURNAL NEWS June 5, 2007
ROCKLAND REVIEW ARTICLE ABOUT THE 'PAWS FOR READING' PROGRAM
January 26, 2007
ROCKLAND MAGAZINE - 10 NEW REASONS TO LOVE NEW CITY, "A LIBRARY GONE TO THE DOGS"
HUDSON VALLEY MAGAZINE JULY 2006 ISSUE CREATURE COMFORTS ARTICLE WITH A SECTION ON THE VISITING PET PROGRAM.
THE JOURNAL NEWS MAY 28, 2006 TRAINED DOG TO HELP KIDS READ
Preschoolers Azaria Lawson, left, and Caralyn DeFino get to know Cleo, a therapy greyhound owned by volunteer Brian Dwyer, during a visit from the Hudson Valley Humane Society's Visiting Pet Program. The children attend the day care center at the Dr. Robert L. Yeager Health Center in Ramapo. (Kathy Gardner/The Journal News)Pet Therapy Brings Joy to Seniors and Patients
By Hema Easley
RAMAPO - Holding a treat in her palm, Ora Jackson extended her hand to Cleo. The elegant, 9-year-old greyhound delicately nibbled the treat off Jackson's hand and lowered her head to be petted.
"I love Cleo. She is so affectionate," said Jackson, 81, of Suffern who has been coming to the Dr. Robert L. Yeager Health Center for five years. She was seated with a dozen other seniors at the center last week when the Hudson Valley Humane Society's Visiting Pet Program dropped in.
Their appearance energized the room. Elderly men and women leaned over to pet Cleo and two other animals - Oliver, a 2-year-old pug, and Dakota, a fuzzy retired show cat - who came with their owners.
At least once every couple of months, the pet program goes to the center, bringing cheer to the seniors. The visit is the highlight of the week.
"This is such a good thing," said Jackson. "It makes you happy."
The owners, all volunteers for the program, walked around the room encouraging seniors to pet and hold the animals. A few minutes later, little children from the nearby Rockland Worksite Day Care walked in, part of the intergenerational exchanges that the program encourages.
"Just to see the smile on people's faces, that's enough incentive to do this," said Brian Dwyer of New City, who has volunteered for the program for five years.
But the nonprofit organization is struggling to keep pace with demand for visits, said CJ Puotinen of Suffern, coordinator and co-founder of the program. There are about 30 volunteers in the program with 40 registered animals.
Together they make about 20 trips a month to facilities in Rockland, Bergen and Orange counties, free of charge, visiting assisted living facilities, nursing homes, adult day programs, Alzheimer's units, psychiatric wards and the occasional juvenile detention facility.
But more than 50 facilities are on a waiting list, said Puotinen. The shortage is exacerbated by deaths in the animal population. In the last year alone, three dogs, a guinea pig and other animals have died, she said.
"We do not have enough volunteers and we desperately need volunteers," said Puotinen. "We'd love to have more rabbits, we'd love to have more birds, cats, more friendly pets and, of course, more dogs … You can have a cow, a llama, a horse, even a chicken."
In the early '90s, Puotinen decided she would fulfill a longtime desire to volunteer at a nursing home. But unexpectedly, Puotinen recalls, she felt uncomfortable and tongue-tied, and wondered later if she would have done better if she had gone in with an animal. She called around to find out if there was a visiting pet program and she was referred to the Hudson Valley Humane Society.
She went to the Humane Society to take obedience lessons with her 1-year-old black Labrador retriever, Samantha. There she met Dolores Schaub of West Haverstraw, an employee who had a Doberman named Shannon. Together the two and their pets took therapy dog training classes and tried to learn more about animal assisted therapy.
Fourteen years ago, the two Rockland women founded the Hudson Valley Humane Society's Visiting Pet Program. Now they encourage volunteers to take animal obedience training through the Delta Society, a nationwide organization that aims to improve human health through service and therapy animals.
Their organization is only one of three in New York state that are affiliates of Delta Society, which trains, screens and provides liability insurance to volunteers and their pets. The other two are in New York City and Syracuse.
An estimated 6,400 Delta pet partners volunteer in all 50 states and in five countries, helping more than a million people.
"Sharing our special animals with people brings a real life experience to people that are in facilities where they can't have their own pets," said Schaub, a graphic artist who is the program's director and has 25 years of experience in animal shelters. "Animals tend to help people with social interaction. They encourage interaction and conversation and they are non-judgmental." Patients "may not have interaction with human beings in the facility but they will with animals."
The Hudson Valley Humane Society's Visiting Pet Program is also an affiliate of Reading Education Assistance Dogs, a nationwide program that aims to improve the literacy skills of children by having them read to READ's registered therapy animals.
To be accepted as a volunteer, owners and their pets must go through a rigorous training program, at the end of which the animals are tested for obedience, aptitude and behavior. This includes checking to see if an animal is healthy, calm, likes to be petted, to travel, go into unfamiliar situations, recovers easily from distraction and enjoys interaction with strangers. Many potential volunteers don't pass the test the first time, but they are encouraged to try again, Puotinen said.
In anticipation of new volunteers, the program will hold a series of training workshops in September and October at the Tolstoy Foundation in Valley Cottage.
"It's not easy to find suitable, qualified teams to do this kind of work," Schaub said. "If we could get another 15 teams, we would be thrilled."