Mike Battista and his dog, Mya, are relatively new to Paws & Think. Less than a year ago, Mike attended a volunteer orientation session at the suggestion of his wife, who has had a therapy dog in the past. After learning more about the organization and its mission, Mike says, “I was hooked.” Not long after that orientation, Mike and Mya enrolled in Paws & Think’s Pet Therapy training, and together they passed their evaluation to become a registered therapy team.
Mya, now 12 years old, is a “foster fail” who came to Mike about a year ago from Indianapolis Animal Care Services. She had been adopted and returned to the shelter four times before Mike and his wife decided to try fostering. After six months, they made the decision to keep her. “She is ours forever,” Mike says. Their family also includes another rescue dog, Jasper, age 11, who was adopted from the Indy Mega Adoption Event two years ago.
After working as a nurse for 22 years, Mike is now retired and enjoys cooking and amateur photography. In addition to volunteering with Mya, Mike has also helped out as a Coach for Paws & Think’s Youth-Canine program at the Marion County Juvenile Detention Center. He says the experience of mentoring the youth in this program is “greatly rewarding,” but being a part of the Pet Therapy program with Mya is most important to him.
Together Mike and Mya enjoy visiting residents at nursing homes and memory care units. Mike remembers a special experience at Allisonville Meadows, where a withdrawn gentleman showed increasing interest in Mya at each visit, becoming more interactive and responsive. After the fourth visit from Mike and Mya, the man turned to Mike to declare quietly, “She’s a good dog.” For Mike, this illustrates his favorite thing about volunteering with Paws & Think: “giving anyone, young, old, in good or poor health, the opportunity to feel loved, important, and respected.”
…And why our therapy dogs are not fed them
Raw protein diets have started to gain some traction in the pet food industry and among dog owners. Some proponents feel that raw diets are healthier for dogs, though there has not been any peer-reviewed study proving this claim. However, there have been studies showing that feeding dogs raw protein diets can be a risk to human health, especially to those people who have compromised immune systems.
Raw protein diets can be contaminated with harmful bacteria, such as E. coli, Samonella, Campylobacter, and Listeria. Since the meat is raw, it is not cooked or processed in ways to kill these bacteria that may be present in the meat. Some dogs may get sick and have nausea or vomiting, soft stool or diarrhea, or even get an infection in their blood stream. For other dogs, they may not get sick, but could become asymptomatic carriers of the bacteria. This means, they could transmit the bacteria to people, either by licking them, or simply by the person coming into contact with their fur. These types of bacteria can make people extremely sick, and can even cause death, especially among susceptible children.
Because our therapy dogs frequently encounter people who may not have strong immune systems, such as children and the elderly, we cannot allow our therapy dogs to be fed raw protein diets. We do not want to put the people we are helping at risk for a deadly infection, no matter what the odds are.
Most veterinarians advise against feeding a raw food diet because of these public health risks.
Most types of “raw food” are prepared when the pet owner buys raw meat and bone and feeds it directly to their pet. There are also commercially available “raw protein diets”. However, there are some raw foods that we may not be aware of that could potentially cause harm, and these include the following:
- Pig ears
- Bully sticks
- Marrow bones
- Raw coated kibble
- Freeze-dried raw food
- Dried liver bites
**For this article, when we refer to raw, we only refer to raw meat and bone, not raw vegetables, since those are usually fine as long as they are washed off first.
References and where to find more information:
Last month, Beatrice Bowlby, a senior at Park Tudor and part of the Global Scholars Program, presented her study regarding the research question, “Can animal assisted therapy, with an emphasis on inter-special empathy, play a valuable role in the treatment of psychological and physical disorders?” Below is the essay she wrote in response to that study.
At 12 inches tall and 24 inches long, Kipling does not look like your average therapist. In fact, he looks more like a loaf of bread. But I suppose at seventeen and a half I don’t really look like a therapist either. In my eighth grade English class we were taught the difference between sympathy and empathy, and since then I have attempted to define them on my own, striving for the noumenal moment that manifests itself through empathizing with another being. It was not until I found Paws & Think that I truly understood the definition of empathy. In his therapeutic role, Kipling serves as the medium for the conversations I have. His stubby legs, long back, and big ears are characteristic of a Pembroke Welsh Corgi, and they have facilitated my ability to provide comfort and happiness to people from all walks of life.
The creative writer in me is fascinated by the complexity of character and the creation of dynamic personalities with only words, searching for a connection beneath a pile of diction and syntax. I am moved by the stories I hear in the nursing homes and the grief of the little girl who tragically lost her father. Listening has always been a strength of mine. In kindergarten, I was taught to listen because that is the respectful thing to do. As I got older, I discovered that listening isn’t only respectful, but it instills a sense of trust and understanding in and for another.
The visits to Hoosier Village and Camp Healing Tree force me to step outside my immediate circles of school, family, and friends into a community that I would not know if I had not trained Kipling to become a therapy dog. As one of Paws & Think’s youngest volunteers, I have become a familiar face. The other volunteers may know me as the young English girl with the corgi, and I can’t say that that identification is any different in other aspects of my life. After all, my voice became an amalgamation of English and American before I could even call myself a citizen, stretching between one culture and another until the Atlantic felt more like an ocean and less like a pond.
From volunteer to intern, I have immersed myself in an organization in which I believe, spending time communicating with people and managing the donor database. The work is challenging and emotionally intense, but I am constantly amazed by the support and sense of fulfillment that I get from being part of the Paws & Think community. As an intern, I find myself in my element as my academic work ethic takes over, and thank you letters to donors are written, printed, enveloped, and sent with the greatest care. As a volunteer, I have realized that the time spent with the elderly woman in the wheelchair as she talks slowly about coming to America as a small child and the moments spent listening to little girls finally talk about emotions that kids their age should not know how to feel are the real reasons I love my work with Paws & Think.
Kipling aids in my ability to walk alongside another as they tell me of a journey that forced them to grapple with confusion, pain, and ultimately strength. I cannot say that I have endured what many of the people I talk to have, but I can say that I know what it is to be a sister and a daughter, a 10 year old girl, a friend, and a listener. Now I am able to define empathy for myself: to mirror the vulnerability of another as they tell an honest story.
Do you love to talk on the phone? If so, we have the perfect volunteer position for you. We are looking for a volunteer to answer our voicemails. This volunteer would need to have 30-60 minutes available each day to return calls and enter notes in our google voicemail account. Volunteer should have great communication and organization skills.
Please contact Kelsey Burton at email@example.com if interested.
Paws & Think is looking for a graphic designer to volunteer their skills to our organization! We have an ongoing need for someone to help primarily with our print marketing materials, but there are also opportunities to help with web/social graphics, event invitations and program logos.
We are looking for one or more volunteers with design experience (or degree) who are proficient in Illustrator, Photoshop and InDesign.
If you are interested in volunteering in this capacity please contact Rhaya Shilts at firstname.lastname@example.org with your interest, availability, and any samples of your work.
Tarzan’s eyes were laser focused on the small ball in Chad Shuman’s hands. It was the dog’s turn at the Indiana State Fair Dock Diving Competition. The crowd was roaring and the smell of fair food filled the air, but the ball was the only thing that existed to Tarzan in that moment.
Right on cue, he begins to run the several feet down the platform as his owner throws the ball toward the water. Tarzan leaps off the platform and several feet across the pool before finally making his way back down to earth with a massive splash.
It’s hard to imagine that not even one year earlier, Tarzan didn’t know how to obey even the most basic of obedience commands.
Before being adopted by Shuman, Tarzan was living at the Humane Society for Hamilton County (HSHC) as a shelter dog. But in August 2017, he was chosen to be one of 5 shelter dogs chosen to participate in the first session of Paws & Think’s Hamilton County Youth-Canine Program.
The program pairs at-risk youth from Hamilton Youth Assistance Program with shelter dogs to train them on basic obedience, improving their adoptability. For the program, Tarzan had been paired with a teen named Liam.
But on day 1, Tarzan was having none of it. He struggled in new environments, and refused to follow any of Liam’s commands. But Liam had an idea.
“What if I give him a ball?” he asked, thinking that a toy might help Tarzan focus.
It worked. “Just like that, he connected with that dog,” said Executive Director, Kelsey Burton.
Although Liam had broken through with Tarzan, it wasn’t completely smooth sailing. Tarzan still had his stubborn moments when he decided to “quit” his training for the day and lay down on the floor. But Liam never gave up. In those moments, he would “lay down next to him and would pet him and love on him and just kind of start to teach Tarzan that it was okay to trust another person,” said Burton.
Liam’s persistence paid off for both him and Tarzan. He kept working to build trust with Tarzan throughout the week, and by the end of the 5 day program, Tarzan was thriving, even jumping through hula hoops.
But it wasn’t just Tarzan that had grown. Liam had also made huge strides during the week, going from “not even being able to be in the room” at the beginning of the session to “being a leader, and demonstrating that,” said Tricia Straus, an Advocate with the Fishers Youth Assistance Program.
“He was probably our star of our program from the standpoint that he benefited the most,” said Burton. She explained how Liam gained confidence through the process of taking a scared shelter dog like Tarzan and through persistence, finally earning his trust. “He taught the dog those skills. That was totally him and he can have that accomplishment,” Burton said.
By the end of the week, it was time for Liam and Tarzan to part ways. Burton remembers how Liam stretched out the goodbye as long as possible. “All the other kids had left and Liam had asked if he could come with us to walk Tarzan back to the Humane Society,” she said. “And he walked over and you could just tell he didn’t want to let that leash go.”
Liam even wrote a letter to Tarzan’s future owner with advice on how to be the best possible pet parent to Tarzan. One insightful piece of advice that Liam included – “His favorite toy by far is his ball.”
Tarzan was soon adopted by Chad Shuman. As an athlete, Shuman had been looking for a dog that could join him on his runs. “I was kind of thinking a dog that could go and run and be active with me, and he is a champion at that,” he explains.
Lisa Jones and her dog Rookie have been volunteering with Paws & Think for over four years and have been able to make a positive impact by visiting all different types of venues as a therapy team. Lisa is an RN who has worked as a realtor and broker for the past 16 years, and she says her favorite part of volunteering with Paws & Think is seeing the difference that Rookie makes in people’s lives – “He can help in a way that humans can’t.” Lisa is passionate about Paws & Think because she can see the value that it has in the community.
Together Lisa and Rookie have had many memorable experiences volunteering. In our end-of-year appeal, we highlighted the story of Rookie’s visit with an unresponsive stroke patient who had a breakthrough moment in his recovery when he was able to speak to Rookie and feed him a treat. On another visit at IU, Rookie and Lisa went into the room of a woman who was terminally ill. Her husband, who was grieving, was skeptical about allowing Rookie to visit. “What good will this dog do?” he asked. When his wife placed her hand on Rookie’s head, everyone was amazed to see her heart rate decreasing on the monitor, proof of Rookie’s calming effect on her even in such a dire time.
Rookie, an English Yellow Lab, has been with Lisa since he was 11 months old and has been volunteering since he was a year and a half. Lisa is married and has three sons and three daughters-in-law, and when she is not volunteering with Rookie she enjoys needlepoint, reading, and volunteering with women who are overcoming addiction. Their family has two new additions – Lisa’s first grandchild, and a new English Yellow Lab puppy, who Lisa hopes can also become a therapy dog someday.
Dogs have been a human’s best friend for thousands of years. Originally, they provided support to hunters and latterly shepherds. In more modern times, they have helped the blind to become more mobile, with the first seeing eye dog starting its duty in 1928. They can now assist the police and other emergency services as well. However, dogs are not just a tool for physical labor. They can also provide emotional support to the lonely, including the elderly or socially anxious. These canines are known as Therapy Dogs and they’ve been providing a wealth of health benefits for many years now.
Who Can Use a Therapy Dog?
Anyone who can find benefit in spending time with a dog should aim to do so. This includes people who are suffering from social isolation, particularly the elderly who are at risk of developing dementia or Alzheimer’s.
There have even been initiatives to help young children with their reading and writing by using the comforting presence of a dog. Therapy dogs are taken into classrooms and will sit attentively while children try to “teach” the dog how to read. In reality, it is the kids who are learning to read at a faster rate than if the dog hadn’t been there.
For those with mental conditions such as depression or anxiety, a dog can make a world of difference. Having a dog in your home will release tension in the muscles and lower blood pressure, simply by allowing yourself to stroke, pet and play with them, therefore combatting stress. Dogs provide non-judgemental love and give their owners a sense of purpose and responsibility. This is an extremely effective motivator for those with depression who struggle to find meaning.
Where to Start
If you have serious problems with everyday movement, firstly make sure your house is mobility friendly. This may involve installing wider doors or a stair lift if it is becoming increasingly difficult to access other levels of the house.
If possible, adopt a pet of your own. The loyalty and caring nature of dogs makes them the perfect pet. By adopting from a local shelter, a traumatised and anxious dog will have a new free and happy life in your care. A dog with its own emotional problems may seem appealing because it allows owner and pet to help each other and heal together.
If you are unable to own a pet for yourself, search around for the right charity program to suit your needs. Paws & Think offers therapy dogs to help with behaviorally and academically challenged students. There is also help available for children or adults who have gone through other emotional trauma such as bereavement. Paws & Think offers pet services for people of all ages, who need therapy for a wide variety of reasons.
Written by Lucy Wyndham
A recent tragedy at a high school found the students struggling to cope with the death of some fellow classmates. How did Paws and Think help these kids? Reporter Adam Dunn shows us how therapy dogs from this organization delivered just the right soothing touch for the emotionally paralyzed pupils.
Paws & Think will be piloting a new Youth-Canine program this year in partnership with Hamilton County Youth Assistance Program (HCYAP) and the Humane Society for Hamilton County. The new Hamilton County Youth-Canine Program will be held two times in 2017, and the inaugural program starts this week. The program will be led by Paws & Think’s Youth-Canine Coordinator, Kim Trimpe, and each training team will consist of two high school aged students, one dog, and one adult Paws & Think volunteer who will act as a mentor for the youth. This new program will follow the same model as our other Youth-Canine programs, with the goals of teaching valuable life skills to the youth and increasing chances of permanent adoption for the dogs.
HCYAP provides programs that promote positive growth and enhance home and community relationships for at-risk youth in Hamilton County. Teens who are facing challenging life circumstances have been selected by HCYAP staff to participate in our Youth-Canine program pilot with the goal that the program will teach them about opportunities to make their lives better. Youths will learn the value of working together towards a common goal, and our Paws & Think mentor volunteers will help to demonstrate that kindness and positive reinforcement can produce results and pave the way towards opportunities and success. Training sessions will include discussions about leadership, trust, empathy, safety, and will focus on positive reinforcement training for the dogs.
The Hamilton County Youth-Canine Program is the first program of its kind to bring together Paws & Think, HCYAP, and the Humane Society for Hamilton County. The second round of the pilot program will take place in the fall. Paws & Think is also currently working with Dr. Eric Grommon from IUPUI to develop statistical measures for our Youth-Canine programs to better quantify the positive impact of these programs to our community.