Shari Preston first learned about Paws & Think while watching PetPals TV in 2016. She was intrigued by the story and started volunteering with the Pawsitive Corrections Youth-Canine program shortly after. Shari has become a regular volunteer as a Mentor/Coach for the Youth-Canine program, and she has witnessed many inspiring moments that she says she hopes will make a difference for the youths that she has had the pleasure of meeting.
Shari explains that if a dog is distracted or shies away from a teen in the program, she will describe for the teen all that the dog has been through in such a short time: living in a noisy shelter, traveling with the other dogs from the shelter to the Juvenile Detention Center, and moving into an unfamiliar kennel with all new sights, sounds, and smells. She said the teens often speak about how they can relate to the dog’s experience, and within minutes, she’s able to watch a bond grow between the youth and the dog.
Helping the youth to practice different obedience commands with their dogs reinforces this bond, and she remembers one teen confiding in her that his dog taught him patience. Shari can relate to this – she has one dog of her own, a 7-year old yellow Lab mix named Finn that she rescued in 2014. She explains that before Finn, she didn’t know what it was like to be around a fearful dog, and he has taught her so much. She and her husband, Chris, love to go hiking with Finn, and she enjoys sharing stories of their adventures with kids in the Youth-Canine programs.
In addition to helping with the Youth-Canine program, Shari also volunteers as an escort with the Paws to Heal program at St. Vincent. “It’s great to ask someone if they would like a pet visit, and then to watch the emotional change it brings to the entire room,” she says, reflecting on the impact of the program. She explains that not only does visiting with a therapy dog brighten a patient’s day, but it often starts a great conversation by allowing the person to share stories about their dog as well. For her, this is the best part of volunteering with Paws & Think: “It’s so heartwarming to see the pure joy on a person’s face when they talk about a dog!”
Whitney and her dog Pete started their volunteer journey in Cincinnati, where they lived and volunteered together at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital for a year. Whitney describes Pete as a calm and loving dog who enjoys everyone he meets, so after moving to Indianapolis, she knew she wanted to find a way for she and Pete to get involved with the community. They found Paws & Think after contacting Riley Children’s Hospital to learn about their therapy dog volunteer opportunities. Whitney was impressed with Paws & Think’s mission: “I love that Paws & Think helps in many different venues and is constantly trying to educate the community on the many ways dogs and humans help each other.”
Together Whitney and Pete passed their therapy team evaluation with Paws & Think in June of this year and went on to complete the additional training to become part of the Paws to Heal program at St. Vincent’s. They visit St. Vincent’s every other week, and the Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital is their favorite place to volunteer together. Whitney reflects on a recent visit there, where they encountered a young girl in the hallway outside her room. The girl sat down next to Pete, and Pete wiggled close to her and laid his head in her lap. The girl was so small that Pete’s head barely fit in her lap, but they sat together for five minutes or more, content with each other’s company. “That interaction just reminded how lucky I am to have Pete and how lucky we all are to have dogs that know just what to do to make the most of a moment,” Whitney says.
Pete is a Golden Retriever who will be turning four in March, and when he is not volunteering with Paws & Think he loves to play fetch and go swimming in any water that he can get to. Pete has a younger brother, Eddie, who is also a Golden Retriever and just turned one year old. Together they enjoy visiting local parks to walk the trails, and Whitney is training Eddie so that he can become a therapy dog with Paws & Think someday, too. Whitney looks forward to being able to volunteer with Eddie and is happy that she is able to share Pete’s gifts with others. “I get asked all the time how I trained Pete to be a therapy dog,” she says. “While there is a lot of work and training that goes into it, it is so much more than just obedience. Some dogs just have that special personality!”
I’m lucky. I’m Harriet, a Paws & Think therapy dog – or as I like to think of myself, a smile creator, stress reliever, and master snuggler. When I go to work at St. Vincent Hospital, Brooke’s Place, schools, libraries, or any of the many places I visit, I never know what I’ll get to do.
One afternoon my human and I were searching for a patient’s room in Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital. I’m never in a hurry, because lots of times the caregivers, staff, and visitors need a little TLC, too. I’m flexible. So, I stop and cheer them up if they need a quick lovin’. That’s something amazing about being a dog – I just never run out of love. Energy, yes, but run out of love? Never!
We were on our way to visit a little girl, and when we arrived there was quite the crowd in her room. She was on her way to surgery that very minute. My human asked if we had bad timing. Gosh, silly humans. Couldn’t they see my timing was perfect? Thankfully, the doctors and nurses recognized this and said we were right on time! They asked if she would like me to ride to surgery with her. The scared child smiled and asked if I could hop up on her bed and snuggle. So, that’s exactly what I did!
Up I went to escort my first patient to surgery. She loved on me the whole ride. Boy, was that great! And her Mom even said I had the best timing ever.
It’s because of our supporters I get to do this awesome job.
Best job ever,
Paws & Think Therapy Dog
Every day, your support makes stories like Harriet’s possible.
Over 30,000 men, women, and children were provided comfort and support through our Pet Therapy Program (Animal-Assisted Interactions) in 2018. Hundreds of kids learned to fall in love with reading through our Paws to Read programs in schools and libraries where children read to therapy dogs.
In addition, our Youth-Canine Programs provided a second chance to 65 shelter dogs and 130 kids in 2018 alone!
We need your help to continue to make all of this possible.
Would you consider making a special year-end donation to help us continue to improve lives through the power of the human-dog connection?
Thank you for your continued support and friendship,
Kelsey Burton, Executive Director
Paws and Think, Inc.
If you have been to a Subaru dealership in the past few years, you may already be familiar with Izzo, the canine half of this month’s featured therapy team. “His photo is large in all the Subaru dealerships,” explains Megan Thie, Izzo’s owner and therapy partner. In the photo, the Labsky looks relaxed as his outstretched head is perched on the rear view mirror, soaking up the beauty of an autumn drive.
But Izzo wasn’t always so calm. “Izzo was a wild child as a puppy and we went through a lot of obedience courses,” explains Thie. But with his outsized personality also came a huge love of children. “He’d try to pull me towards them when we’d walk on the Monon Trail,” recalled Megan.
This gave Megan an idea. Her mom is a 3rd grade teacher, so what better place would there be for Izzo to release his energy than in a room packed with kids? As a result, Izzo and Megan began visiting her classroom occasionally and still do to this day. These visits bring Izzo so much joy that you can see him physically “smile”, according to Megan.
Izzo and Megan have been volunteering for Paws & Think for the past year and a half. As the child of a teacher and a lifelong lover of reading, Megan enjoys visiting other schools with Izzo to get kids excited about reading and strengthening their literacy skills.
However, Izzo has been known to be a bit of a workaholic at times. Megan recalls one time when the pair was working at the FINA World Junior Swimming Championship, talking to kids around the globe about competitive swimming and dogs. After an hour and a half of visiting, Megan attempted to leave with Izzo.
Izzo wasn’t having it. “He laid down in the exit of the building, howled ‘husky talk’ at me, and drug me back inside.” And even after one victory, Izzo still had some fight in him. When Megan left for the second time, Izzo sprawled out on the parking garage floor in one last attempt to stay even longer.
But all of the joy the pair gets from volunteering is well worth those occasional moments of stubbornness. “I’m always proud to share that Izzo is a therapy dog with the largest locally based therapy organization in Indiana,” said Megan.
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.”
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.
When Executive Director Kelsey Burton called with the tragic news that three students from Warren Central High School had been killed, Marcia Baker knew that her therapy dog, an Australian Shepherd/Poodle mix named Raisin, could be a source of comfort for the grieving student body.
“I was more than glad to help out,” Marcia said, although she wasn’t sure what awaited her and Raisin at the school. “I couldn’t imagine thousands of students grieving over what was such a raw and tragic event.”
So off went Marcia and Raisin to Warren Central.
It was a typical reaction for someone whose love of both dogs and helping teens in need goes back decades.
Marcia grew up in St. Petersburg, Florida, in a dog loving family. Whether it was tramping through the woods or playing in the creek, dogs were a constant presence in her life. “I can’t remember a moment when there wasn’t a canine friend in the family,” she said.
Marcia eventually became a teacher, working with at-risk teens in challenging environments and communities.
More recently, she became the owner of three-year-old Raisin. Marcia described Raisin as playful, yet relaxed, as she recalled the time Raisin slept on her back in the crate on the way home from Kentucky, where she was adopted.
Marcia soon realized that Raisin’s happy-go-lucky nature was perfectly suited for a dog therapy setting. “When Raisin came into my life, I knew I wanted to share her with anyone who needed a canine friend,” she said.
So when Marcia learned about Paws & Think while searching for pet therapy opportunities, she jumped at the opportunity for her and Raisin to get involved.
The duo travel all over Indianapolis giving comfort to kids in venues such as IPS #34, Brooks Place, Coburn Place, and Julian Center.
In addition to volunteering with Raisin, the Youth-Canine Program is a passion of Marcia’s given her background in helping troubled teens.
“Getting back to this love of mine, along with my love of dogs, this program was just perfect for me,” Marcia said of Youth-Canine.
For the program, Marcia has spearheaded the effort to develop new program training materials so that the program can be replicated in juvenile detention centers all over the country.
The materials, Marcia explained, will “make what we do easier, more focused, and increase the opportunity to bring about even better outcomes for the dogs and youth participating in the program.”
But while programs like Youth-Canine involve a highly structured training program where at-risk students teach the basics of dog obedience to their canine pupils, when it came to comforting students at Warren Central, there was no program that could prepare Marcia and Raisin for what they would experience.
When they arrived at the school, the pair was greeted quietly by faculty and staff and instructed to just be available for the students.
“Raisin realized that this wasn’t a time for play,” Marcia said.
The pair wandered through the clusters of students who were sitting on the floor, standing along the hallways, and gathering in the counseling offices, trying to process the horror of what had happened.
“There wasn’t much need for words,” said Marcia. “Raisin was more than happy to lay next to a student or be surrounded by a group of students and be touched as they worked through their feelings.”
However, as time went on, lighter conversation emerged from the silence as the students began to bond with Raisin. They inquired about her breed (often a topic of mystery among those first meeting Raisin) and her love of full-body massages. Many of them would also begin to open up and share their own dog stories. “This seemed to ease them back into the ‘normal’ world again,” said Marcia.
After several days of being available for students, fewer and fewer students continued to need help. High school counselors gently guided students back into class.
By Thursday, the counselors informed Marcia and Raisin that their job was done. Although their calming presence was no longer needed at Warren Central, Marcia is ready to serve again if needed.
“We will be there in a heartbeat if we get the call.”
In November of 2015, Katie Selzler came across a picture on the Indianapolis Animal Care Services website of a dark-haired retriever named Remy who appeared to be smiling at the camera. Katie was looking to adopt an older dog, and Remy was estimated to be about five years old at the time. Inspired by the gentle soul captured in the photo, Katie went to IACS to meet Remy, but was told he was not available for adoption because he was in a program at the Marion County Juvenile Detention Center. Intrigued, Katie went back to IACS every day for the next three days until she was finally able to meet Remy, who was by then a new graduate of the Pawsitive Corrections Youth-Canine training program. Katie and Remy took a quick walk together, and after seeing how calm, happy, and friendly he was with strangers, she knew he was the dog for her.
Flash forward to 2017: Katie is searching online for ways to volunteer and give back to the community when she comes across Paws & Think. Having worked for animal rescues in the past, she was particularly interested in volunteering with an organization that worked with rescue dogs, and Paws & Think seemed like the perfect fit. She and Remy soon enrolled in the pet therapy training class, and in March they passed their evaluation to become a registered Paws & Think therapy team. Katie says she and Remy plan to visit hospitals and nursing homes, specifically facilities that have memory care centers. Katie is looking forward to volunteering as much as her schedule allows, and we are thrilled to have one of our Youth-Canine graduates return to Paws & Think as a volunteer. Look for Katie and Remy at upcoming outreach events where they will be helping to spread the word about Paws & Think!
“She came out and put her head on my shoulder as if to say ‘I just need some love’”, recalls Pam Martin of her encounter with the sweet, shy dog in the Youth-Canine Evening Care Program.
And love is exactly what Pam gives to the shelter dogs that are being trained in the JDC by their youth partners. Pam has been a Pet Therapy volunteer alongside her beloved partner Tito, and had always been interested in the Youth-Canine program. Now as a volunteer in the Evening Care Program, she spends time interacting with the dogs, including playing with them, feeding them, and going on walks.
The love goes both ways. Pam fondly remembers how her fellow volunteer Tammy fell in love with a beautiful hound mix named Bailey, who now calls Tammy “Mom”. Along with the training provided by each dog’s designated JDC youth instructor, Evening Care Volunteers give these special dogs the socialization needed to increase their chances of being adopted from the shelter and finding a forever home.
And Pam’s favorite part of volunteering in the Evening Care Program? “I love spending time with the dogs! They are so appreciative of the attention they receive.”
When Leanne Whitesell met Paws & Think’s Executive Director at Woofstock 2013, she was excited to learn of the opportunities the organization could offer for her dog. When she got Terrence three years earlier, she knew right away that his gregarious nature and his desire to be around people would make him a great therapy dog, but she struggled to find information about how to accomplish this goal for him. Paws & Think offered a path that made sense, and she says she was drawn to the organization by the friendliness and helpfulness of the staff and volunteers. “They were patient with me and Terrence as we negotiated our way through our new world and allowed Terrence to be himself,” she says. By January of 2014, they were a certified therapy team.
In the past three years, Terrence and Leanne have logged 97 therapy visits at 23 different venues. Terrence especially enjoys reading with children, and they regularly visited Eastridge Elementary School, where Leanne remembers two particularly special success stories where Terrance was able to help students improve their reading skills. One third grader improved by three reading levels and said that she believes that reading with Terrence made her enjoy practicing her reading more. Another student worked with Terrence for two years and formed a deep bond with him during their reading time – Terrence would crawl into her lap, and having his undivided attention helped to motivate her. She was the first student in her class to receive the Top Dog trophy for reading ten books.
Leanne appreciates that Paws & Think allows her and Terrence to volunteer together, and she feels their work is special because it provides opportunities for many people to engage with therapy dogs who would not otherwise be able to benefit from bonding with an animal. She says that Terrence loves visiting with people and making new friends through Paws & Think. “He is very aware of his responsibilities when he wears his uniform and takes his job very seriously,” she says.
Leanne and Terrence have been volunteering at the Indianapolis Public Library – Irvington Branch since June of 2014. You can stop by to visit them at our Paws to Read program the second Saturday of every month from 11:00am-12:00pm.