A STAFF REPORT

The Arab Tribune

Do you have a dog with a loving personality who enjoys being around other people? If so, Marshall County's Retired and Senior Volunteer Program would like for you to be a part of the therapy dog program.

Dog owners and their pets are invited to come for the initial “Therapy Dogs” evaluation session Wednesday, Oct. 8, at the RSVP office in Guntersville.

RSVP’s current group of pet therapy volunteers are filling a tremendous need, but with the number of care facilities in Marshall County, more dog/handler teams are needed.

Animal assisted therapy (more commonly called pet therapy) consists of volunteers taking their pet dogs to visit people in retirement centers, nursing homes, hospitals and schools.

When residents enter senior housing, most have already lost the touch of a spouse. Twenty-percent have no family or friends to visit them.

Much has been written about the correlation between touch and health, and residents need the safe, non-threatening touch of an animal to hold, hug and touch. This can make a world of difference to people who would otherwise have no positive, appropriate physical contact.

RSVP is developing a Dog Therapy Team which uses dogs for therapy work. This network of caring individuals share their special animals in order to bring happiness and cheer to people who need something to hold and love.

To become a part of the team, dogs and handlers must complete the following steps under the supervision of the Therapy Dog trainer:

  • Handlers must attend a training course to learn about special needs, interaction, health and safety and patient confidentiality.
  • Dogs must pass a health screening by the animal's regular veterinarian, have immunizations as required by state law and be free from parasites, disease, infections and illnesses.
  • Dog/handler teams must pass a skills test, which shows whether the animal can be controlled by the handler and follow basic commands.
  • Dog/handler teams will be observed on three visits to a facility to determine if dog and handler have the ability, capacity, desire and potential for participating in therapy.

Rosalind Hall, professional dog trainer, tester/observer for Therapy Dogs and RSVP volunteer, will conduct the evaluation/observation process.

The initial screening and evaluation is free. RSVP will cover volunteers who are 55 years of age or older with liability insurance during this initial phase. After completing the evaluation/observation phase, volunteers may choose to join the Therapy Dog program. There is an initial fee of $45 and annual $30 fee, which covers the team with $1 million of liability insurance.

“Sharing the unconditional love dogs have to offer can be rewarding and enjoyable for owners. And the dogs love it,” coordinator Diane Walthall said.

Bring along the dog’s proof of rabies shot, proof of a negative fecal exam done within the past year and health certificate from the veterinarian.

Anyone who is interested in volunteering or who would like more information, call: Walthall at RSVP, 571-7734. You will be given a time to bring your dog for evaluation on Oct. 8.

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