Congratulations to Kate Buhrmaster, senior program manager for dog therapy at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA), for being awarded the prestigious Pet Partners Magic Scholarship Award for 2023! Established in 2017 by Dr. Aubrey Fine, the $1,000 scholarship aims to support registered Pet Partners Therapy Animal Program volunteers with their pursuit of personal and professional development in the field of animal-assisted interventions (AAI).
Kate’s extensive experience as a veteran volunteer handler and program leader at CHLA, where she pioneered the AAI program, sets her apart. Over the past decade, she has overseen a thriving program with more than 100 active Pet Partners therapy animal team volunteers annually. The volunteers, along with over 400 therapy dogs and other therapy animals, engage in over 75,000 interactions with patients, families, and hospital staff each year.
In her application, Kate highlighted the diverse settings in which therapy dogs operate, from bedside visits to intensive care units and rehabilitation gyms. She emphasized the expansion of AAI through virtual offerings and the exploration of non-dog therapy animals for unique encounters. Kate expressed a commitment to informed and considerate growth in AAI, recognizing the importance of proper credentials and evidence-driven thinking.
Kate also has personal experience working in AAI at a variety of facilities and environments over the past 15 years with three of her own therapy dogs. She has guided and mentored every team that has come through CHLA’s program. As a licensed Pet Partners Therapy Animal Program evaluator, she has tested hundreds of teams and understands the importance of working with animals that consent, participate, and thrive on therapy animal work.
Kate’s vision extends beyond personal development. As a thought leader in AAI, she aims to contribute to the evolution of the field, ensuring it is marked by clear and comprehensive models that prioritize the welfare of therapy animals. Kate’s unique position as a handler, evaluator, and program manager positions her to advocate for best practices at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, and she aspires to create a model that other institutions can follow.
The scholarship, named in memory of Dr. Fine’s therapy dog Magic, will empower Kate to advance her expertise. She plans to use the funds to become a Certified Animal-Assisted Intervention Specialist (C-AAIS) and enroll in various courses with Pet Partners’ sister organization, the Association of Animal-Assisted Intervention Professionals (AAAIP), including the AAI Specialist certification exam.
With the Pet Partners Magic Scholarship, Kate is set to champion a path forward for AAI that combines expertise, respect for animals, and a commitment to educating others on the profound impact of the human-animal bond.