There’s no question about it. COVID-19 has changed how we and many others work. One of our organization’s best practices has always been to keep our clients and therapy animals safe. Pet Partners infection prevention guidelines, which have been in place for years, are designed to minimize the risk of spreading germs, including COVID-19.
Because of the virus and the resulting isolation that many experience, and other current events, there is a tremendous need in our communities to benefit from and be comforted by therapy animals. Additionally, our therapy animals and their handlers miss not having the face-to-face interactions that we previously enjoyed with our clients.
While many facilities have restricted visits during the pandemic for safety reasons, we understand and support their decision to do so. Therefore, our volunteers have turned to creativity and technology to continue to share the benefits that therapy animals provide.
Below, we list a few ways that some of our volunteers are continuing to keep their therapy animal engaged and continuing the connection with those in need while adhering to virus safety pre-cautions for the well-being of our clients. Animal-related engagements such as those described below can’t replace the benefits of face-to-face visits with therapy animals. However, studies confirm that animals can influence human wellness even through virtual animal-related engagements.
WALK A THERAPY ANIMAL
Some teams conduct a lunch-break walk or a visit outdoors during shift-change with the therapy animal at facilities where they previously visited indoors. Sometimes multiple teams collaborate to create an outdoor dog show or parade for residents and patients to enjoy watching from their window or while safely distanced outdoors. Walking, or just getting outdoors, promotes health and well-being, and can be done in a variety of ways to accommodate the participants. The Pet Partners Walk With Me™ page provides details and resources for outdoor walks with therapy animals.
Some of our teams that visit veterans’ facilities and nursing homes conduct outdoor visits by approaching the facility’s windows at a scheduled time so the residents or patients can observe from indoors and interact with the therapy animal through the window. If facility staff is able to support this, some clients even speak with the animal’s handler over the phone while the therapy team is outside their window.
VIRTUAL ENGAGEMENTS: SOCIAL MEDIA
Teams that are comfortable with technology create short 5-minute videos or slide-shows of their therapy animal playing, relaxing, being groomed, participating in his or her favorite activities, and express in the video how much the team misses their visits. The videos are then shared with their facility contact by an agreed upon media, or can be conveniently viewed within the Pet Partners Facebook group: Therapy Animal Visits with Pet Partners.
VIRTUAL VISITS: ONLINE VIDEOS
Temporarily this past summer, The SLC County Library had permission for stories to be read publicly online. Therapy dog Moonshine and his handler Heather video-recorded several bedtime stories. While Heather read the story aloud, she frequently showed the book’s pages to the camera, and petted Moonshine who reclined next to her listening with his eyes closed. At the end of the story-time, viewers were treated to watching Moonshine enjoy some healthy snacks. These and other videos can be viewed on the Therapy Animals of Utah Pet Partners YouTube channelHandlers who want to refresh their skills can view short training videos on our youtube channel as well.
VIRTUAL VISITS: LIVE ONLINE MEETINGS
Some of our court therapy teams are participating in virtual hearings through online conferences. Where feasible, some facilities welcome therapy teams to have a Zoom meeting or other online video conference with the staff and clients, where they can interact and have some screen-time together.
READ TO A THERAPY ANIMAL
Schools and libraries recognize the value of the Pet Partners Read With Me™ https://petpartners.org/volunteer/volunteer-with-petpartners/read-with-me/ initiative in which a therapy animal serves as a non-judgmental listener who frequently doubles as an incentive for youngsters to read. During social distancing, reading with an animal can be accomplished through an online conference with the animal onscreen listening as the child reads. Additionally, the Pet Partners We Are All Ears project provides free resources for families to use to encourage reading to the family pet.
PHOTO BUSINESS CARDS
Many of our teams have photo cards of their therapy animal that they’ve distributed in person in the past. Due to the pandemic, some teams have sent several photo cards to their facility contact to distribute along with a short note so our clients know we miss them.
If you’re a volunteer, we hope you’ll access the links that are provided here for helpful ideas and resources that enable you to promote the benefits of the human-animal bond.
Some good news is that these activities and more can be done while social-distancing and wearing a mask! So we encourage you to continue the connection of the human-animal bond as appropriate with the population that you serve.