HUNTSVILLE Ala. - If you have a pet you know seeing them after a long day puts a smile on your face and brings instant joy. Animals can also improve mental and physical health, and can even improve reading skills through animal therapy.
"Pearl has never met a stranger, so this is the perfect job for her," said Jennie Hudson. Together, Hudson and her dog Pearl work for Therapy Partners.
They visit Elmcroft at Byrd Springs, a senior living facility.
"It's really sweet to have Pearl around because she really helps the people a lot," said Pat Fleming, a resident.
Therapy animals provide unconditional love, touch, and they can even reduce blood pressure and pain levels. Therapy partners also visit hospitals, rehab facilities, and even help in a reading program "PAL."
"Partners achieving literacy," said Hudson. "Where the dogs work with reading challenged second and fourth graders. They get to read one on one with the dog, and they get to keep the books that they read."
The dogs help the children focus and encourage self-confidence. The therapy animals are also used to help teach kids how to safely approach unfamiliar dogs, and to reduce stress in college students.
"It just opens up feelings that just are fantastic," said Ann Bayruns, an Elmcroft resident.
Hudson says they have more demand than their teams can handle. They are looking for volunteers without pets, financial support, and new handler/animal teams.
"We do look for animals that really enjoy meeting new people. We want our dogs, animals, to enjoy the visits as much as the people do. That's a big part of it. We do have dog teams, we have cat teams and we currently have two miniature horses as well," she said.
She says the animals need to reliable in temperament and training, predictable in all settings and controllable by their handler. The training for a dog to become a therapy animal usually takes about a year and a half -- or until they can pass a "canine good citizen evaluation."