Dog reaching out from a computer screen. Photo by Daniel Frank from Pexels

Maintaining the Human-Animal Bond During COVID-19

March 19, 2020

As everyone deals with the effects of COVID-19, one of the most important mitigation strategies is social distancing: having people distance and isolate themselves to help prevent spread of the virus. This important public health measure means that people are staying home and not going out for usual activities, schools and businesses are closed or have heavily restricted access, and most therapy animal visits aren’t possible. This is a challenging time and we know that Pet Partners volunteers, clients, and supporters may be wondering how they can keep their connections when they can’t be together in person.

While we can’t offer the in-person healing effect of a therapy animal’s presence in most places right now, there are still a variety of ways that people can stay engaged with Pet Partners and our mission. Here are some ideas for ways to maintain the human-animal bond even when you’re required to stay physically isolated.

Dog on a laptop reaching out to hold a person's hand. Photo by Daniel Frank from PexelsMake Virtual Therapy Animal Visits. Many Pet Partners teams are finding creative ways to keep up their visits through technology. We’ve heard from handlers who are sending photos or videos to the facilities where they visit, making daily posts on their social media to make sure there’s always a supply of therapy animal photos available, or doing video chats for clients and facilities with their therapy animals. These are great options for helping people stay connected with therapy animal visits and offer the effects of AAI to the extent possible right now. Pet Partners is happy to share these “virtual visits” on our social media as well. Teams can email photos, stories, or videos (15 seconds or less) to us, or tag us on social media with #PetPartners #MorePetsLessStress. Consider including a little information about the context of your virtual visit, such as the facility or the client population you normally serve.

Woman with a beagle at a laptop. Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from PexelsTake an Online Course. We have a variety of courses available about multiple aspects of AAI to help therapy animal handlers improve their skills, and to support facilities and people working with particular populations. Topics include infection prevention and control (very relevant right now!), canine body language, and working with veterans and people with Alzheimer’s. Courses are self-paced and can be taken on your own schedule. This is a great opportunity to learn more about how to make every therapy animal visit safe and effective. Check out our Online Education page for more info.

View a Webinar or Facebook Live Recording. Pet Partners periodically presents free webinars on a variety of topics relating to our mission and volunteer procedures. Webinars are recorded and available to volunteers in the Volunteer Center, and some are available to the public. Visit our Webinars page to find out more about both previous and upcoming webinars, and to sign up for upcoming webinars. In addition, we periodically host Facebook Live events on the Pet Partners Facebook page featuring staff and guest experts. These live events are recorded and archived on the Video tab. Recent sessions have talked about infection control and zoonoses; the research supporting AAI; and a day in the life of a therapy animal team. We have more sessions planned in upcoming weeks as well. Just visit our Facebook page to see what’s available.

National Therapy Animal Day LogoCelebrate National Therapy Animal Day. While we may not be visiting, we can still celebrate our therapy animal partners who bring comfort and healing to those in need. April 30 is National Therapy Animal Day, and while in-person celebrations are probably not an option this year, you can still find ways to help your community learn about the vital work of therapy animals and their dedicated handlers. Our National Therapy Animal Day page can get you started with some resources. Pet Partners volunteers can share photos on social media and tag local media outlets; facilities and clients can talk about how therapy animals have positively affected them. Students who have worked with therapy animals for Read With Me could draw pictures to illustrate their experiences. Consider telling your stories or sharing creative media in a video. There are lots of possibilities! Tag your social media posts with #NationalTherapyAnimalDay to spread the word. National Therapy Animal Day t-shirtWe also have a new limited-edition shirt design: Making the World Better One Therapy Animal Visit at a Time! You can wear this to show your support for therapy animals any time. Shirts come in a variety of styles, colors and sizes, and are available for order through April 7.

Bake Up Some Treats & Sweets. It’s still possible to bake a difference for therapy animals, even if not in person. We’ve got some options to make your Treats & Sweets Day fundraisers great even with social distancing: Set up a completely virtual option through a personalized page you can share via email or social media. Register online and get additional ideas and resources.The first 300 bakers receive a start-up kit in the mail to set you up for sweet success!

Black cat with person typing. Photo by Ruca Souza from PexelsConnect with Fellow Volunteers. Pet Partners volunteers, both current and those who have started the registration process, can take part in our online discussion community. This space was created to give volunteers the opportunity to connect regardless of their location, and to learn from each other. Volunteers can make connections and talk more in-depth in the community than is possible in other venues; for example, volunteers on opposite sides of the country can talk together here, and handlers of the less-common therapy animal species can find each other easily and have conversations. Recent topics have included therapy animal teams working with occupational therapists; strategies for therapy cat visits; handlers who have multiple therapy animal partners; and books to use for Read With Me visits. And we’ll be starting up regular Therapy Animal Thursday threads to give everyone a topic to talk about. To join the community, log in to the Volunteer Center and click Online Community.

Brush Up on Your Skills or Prepare for Your Evaluation. For current volunteers, this is an opportunity to refresh your handler knowledge, while for those who are in process of registering as a team, this is a great time to reinforce the skills and knowledge you’ll need when it’s time to evaluate. You can review the Handler Course, read through the Handler Guide, and work with your therapy animal partners on refreshing relevant obedience skills and reaffirming the strong bond you have. When you’re able to visit again or take your team evaluation, you’ll be even stronger as a team.

Consider Becoming a Volunteer Leader. Volunteer leaders are vital to supporting our Therapy Animal Program in local communities, and we’re always eager to have current volunteers step up into these roles. Volunteer instructors present workshops to prepare and train prospective therapy animal handlers. Team evaluators conduct the therapy animal team evaluations that are so important to safe and effective therapy animal visits. Though it will be a while before in-person events can take place again, this is a great opportunity for interested candidates to begin the required coursework for these roles. Learn more about the requirements in the Volunteer Center: log in and click Get Involved.

Learn More about Setting up a Facility Program. Are you with a facility that’s considering adding a therapy animal visiting program? We have some resources to provide information and ideas for you, and this is an opportunity to consider how you can design a program that will be right for your needs. Visit the Pet Partners at Your Facility page to get started.

Read Our Magazine. Recent back issues of our twice-yearly magazine, Interactions, are available in PDF format on our website. These issues contain engaging articles and useful information about our Therapy Animal Program, past events, research and professional development in AAI, and much more. It’s a great opportunity to catch up on your reading!

Read Some Stories about Our Teams. Browse our Featured Teams for stories from handlers about their Pet Partners and how their visits make a difference for people. You can also read tributes to some therapy animals who have left us and be inspired by how they touched lives.

Follow Our Blog! Of course, if you’re reading this, you’re already reading our blog. But consider taking a look at some of the other posts here as well. Our existing content covers many facets of AAI, from serious topics like research and infection control to fun information about what it’s like to be a therapy dog, as well as looking at the history and context of AAI, recaps of special events, and more. We’ll be adding new posts in upcoming weeks, including guest contributors and more information on non-canine therapy animals. Bookmark the blog and check back regularly!

This is an unprecedented and challenging time for our communities. But we know how dedicated our volunteers and supporters are to our mission of improving human health and well-being through the human-animal bond. Sharing our efforts and passion however we can, and helping each other during this time, will make sure that people can still benefit from the effects of therapy animals. Pet Partners will continue to support our volunteers and the AAI community through this challenge.


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