Pet therapy teams needed at USA Health

Published: Aug. 10, 2022 at 11:17 AM CDT
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MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) - USA Health is looking for a few good dogs and their like-minded owners to join the pet therapy program at the region’s only academic health system.

From tiny to tall, a variety of dogs of varying breeds, including a Doberman, golden retrievers and even a few Heinz-57 mutts have brightened the spirits of children and adults at USA Health hospitals in recent years. While the pandemic paused the program for a while, human and canine teams once again are visiting each week with patients and their caregivers.

“We now have a trainer in the area so we are able to fast-track those who want to volunteer at the hospital with their pet,” said Rebekah Blanchard, director of volunteer services for USA Health. “The teams have to go through a training process to become certified to see patients.”

Previously, potential pet therapy teams were required to travel to Mississippi or Florida to meet the training requirements to become certified to visit hospitalized patients.

Research shows that being in the company of animals often can have a soothing effect on people, helping to lower blood pressure and relieve anxiety. The pet therapy initiative is part of the Mapp Child and Family Life Program at Children’s & Women’s Hospital and also part of volunteer services at University Hospital.

“Seeing the joy on a child’s face when a dog enters a hospital room is such a gratifying experience,” Blanchard said. “Our pet therapy teams are an integral part of normalizing the hospital experience for children and adults. They truly make a difference.”

How to become certified

Pet therapy teams must be certificated by Pet Partners before they can start the volunteer application process at USA Health. To begin the certification process, visit petpartners.org and create an account. Go to the volunteer center page, click on the resource library link located on the right, and search on handler guide. A choice of Pet Partners Handler Guide should be visible.

After reviewing the guide, go to the training center, register for the online handler’s course and start it. When you are about halfway through, go back to the training center and sign up for team Evaluation. Choose one of the handler classes.

Pet therapy volunteer application

Pet therapy handlers, who cannot be employees of USA Health, also must complete a USA Health volunteer application once they are certified through the Pet Partners program.

When do the teams visit?

Pet therapy teams typically visit University Hospital on Wednesday afternoons and Children’s & Women’s Hospital on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons for up to an hour and a half.

Volunteering at USA Health

Those who donate their time in service at USA Health facilities find rewarding opportunities that directly affect the healing process for patients and often can relieve stress for their families.

Each year, more than 300 local people donate their time across our campuses. Volunteer openings are available at Children’s & Women’s Hospital, University Hospital, Mitchell Cancer Institute and Strada Patient Care Center.

Our volunteers range from college students to adults of all ages. Groups from service and religious organizations are welcome to join our team of volunteers.

Visit USA Health’s website for more information: https://www.usahealthsystem.com/volunteering

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