Share the love—and wet noses—by volunteering with your pups through local therapy-dog programs.
By Lucy J. Phillips, Floof Crew photo by Niki Jones, Lucy headshot by Hannah J. Phillips
My name is Mr. Belvedere, and I am the head of The Floof Crew, a family of three rescued Great Pyrenees and one goofy akbash. One of our favorite things to do as a pack is to visit nursing homes on the holidays in case some humans are lonely or missing their loved ones. While we love all the extra pets and hugs, it also feels great to see the big smiles on the faces of the people who meet us. We’ve heard of a few of the programs in Austin through which dogs like us can give back to the community, but would you be able to share any others you know of so we can bark out that info to our friends at the dog park?
Dear Mr. Belvedere,
Thank you for writing in with such a great question! We are lucky to live in a city that is not only dog-friendly, but that also provides so many opportunities to give back to our community. Studies have shown dogs are a calming influence in stressful environments because we create a relaxed and welcoming atmosphere. Apart from providing licks and snuggles, our presence in schools can have a beneficial effect on the behavioral processes that lead to improved reading performance. One 2017 study by American Humane even showed that “regular visits from a therapy dog can provide significant psychosocial benefits to families of children undergoing treatment for cancer.” Who wouldn’t wag his or her tail for great causes like that?
If you’re itching to get out there, I dug up a few organizations that are doing great work in Austin and beyond. I’ll start with one that hits close to home since I am a rescue too. My human will tell you that I was not the easiest puppy, but once I grew out of some of my anxieties, thanks to special care and training, she knew she couldn’t keep my love all to herself. That’s when we started training with the team at Love-A-Bull, a nonprofit that promotes breed advocacy and education through programs like the Pit Crew. After some rigorous training, I earned my spot on the Pit Crew and started volunteering as a therapy dog in educational programs like the Andy Roddick Foundation Summer Learning Program. I get lots of pets and treats for keeping the kids calm while they practice reading. It’s fun for everyone!
In addition to hospitals, hospice-care facilities and crisis centers, Love-A-Bull also sends the Pit Crew to visit with students at University of Texas libraries during final-exam periods. Since Love-A-Bull specifically caters to pit bulls as an advocacy group for our often-misrepresented breed, I sniffed out three other nonprofits that aren’t breed-specific.
I first heard about therapy-dog programs through my friend, Dolly the golden retriever, who volunteered with her human, Nora, at Divine Canines. (She is now happily retired.) Founded by Tori Ott Keith and trainer Lee Mannix, Divine Canines has more than 100 active dog-handler teams that visit more than 120 facilities throughout Austin. They provide free therapy-dog services to everyone from children struggling with dyslexia, abuse and disabilities to adults living with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
If you are looking for training in Cedar Park, Texas, The Dog Alliance provides service dogs for veterans and therapy dogs at more than 300 spots in Central Texas. The dogs reduce stress in the workplace, at the airport and in courtrooms, schools, nursing homes and hospitals.
Let’s not leave out our feline friends! In addition to therapy dogs, Therapy Pet Pals of Texas trains and equips therapy cats. Founded in 1984, Therapy Pet Pals of Texas specifically focuses on enhancing the quality of life for the elderly, the mentally and physically challenged and the terminally ill. With locations in both Austin and Houston, the group currently serves about 90 different health-care facilities and institutions.
Each of these incredible organizations provides extensive information online about how your human can determine whether you are well-suited to the task based on your temperament, health and socialization level. They also outline the specific training you will need in order to join the team since each organization has different requirements. And if training sounds daunting, I can tell you it was actually the best part. Learning obedience alongside your human is a great bonding experience, and even though it’s a lot of hard work, nothing beats the reward of getting to volunteer with your best friend for a great cause.
Love and slobbery kisses,
The Floof Crew and their humans are very active in dog rescue through Texas Great Pyrenees Rescue. Sadly, as this issue goes to press, Mr. Belvedere and Bibi passed away suddenly, Bel due to cancer and Bibi due to old age. Follow The Floof Crew on Instagram @thefloofcrew.
If you have a dog-related question for Lucy, reach out and follow her on Instagram @asklucydog.