Pet Partners teams in Romania hold a Walk With Me event

Walk With Me™ for Healthier Communities

January 2, 2020

Pet Partners is committed to improving human health and well-being through the human-animal bond, and this includes finding new ways to bring the effects of therapy animals to people who can benefit. Walk With Me is a special initiative within the Pet Partners Therapy Animal Program for teams who would like to support their community by inviting others to go walking with their registered therapy animal. Read on to find out how Walk With Me can help promote physical and mental well-being in your area.

The Wonders of Walking

The Walk With Me initiative was developed in response to the Surgeon General’s Call to Action about walking for better health. We felt that this was a low cost, easily accessible animal-assisted activity that would promote the health of communities. We know that walking is good for us; health benefits of walking regularly include increased cardiovascular fitness, reduced risk of heart disease and stroke, stronger bones, and increased muscle strength. Adding a therapy animal to the mix is also supported by research.

Here are just a few of the “heeling” benefits of walking with animals:

  • Decreased weight and body mass index
  • Decreased limitations in functional activities of daily living
  • Fewer chronic health conditions
  • Fewer visits to the doctor
  • Decreased loneliness
  • Increased energy levels
  • Decreased levels of cortisol, the hormone that causes stress
  • Increased social interaction
  • Increase in motivation for overall physical activity

Added bonus: About half of all dogs are overweight; walking is a great method for them to stay in shape as well. And walking is important to help older dogs maintain mobility; these walks are usually fairly short distances so that they aren’t a strain for these older dogs. Do it for the dogs!

Not Just Dogs

While dogs are an obvious fit for walking visits, Walk With Me is open to all registered Pet Partners species. Not every species will be interested in going out for a walk, of course. But horses, mini pigs, and llamas and alpacas can be a great fit for Walk With Me, and the novelty of taking a walk with one of these species might encourage participation by people who would normally be reluctant to walk.

Even some of the therapy animals who are species that you don’t normally think about walking with can take part depending on the animal’s personality and interests. For instance, if you have a cat that enjoys walks on leash, or a bird that likes to “ride along” on your arm or shoulder while you walk with others, they can be part of Walk With Me visits as well.

Where Can Walk With Me Visits Happen?

People anywhere can benefit from a walk with a therapy animal, and walking visits can be incorporated into many locations where therapy animal visits already take place. Here are some places that could be enhanced by a Walk With Me session and where teams may already be visiting:

  • Assisted living facilities and independent living centers: Residents at these facilities are often encouraged to get some kind of regular exercise, and research shows that a significant number of residents at these facilities experience loneliness. An opportunity to walk with a therapy animal can inspire people to engage in some exercise and socialize with others. You could incorporate walks around the facility or on the grounds to promote both physical and mental well-being.

   

  • Hospitals and rehabilitation facilities: People recovering from surgery and long-term illness, and those undergoing physical and occupational therapy are often asked to walk as part of the recovery process. Therapy animal teams could walk with them to help make the process more enjoyable and encouraging for them.
  • Schools: A walk with a therapy animal could be part of an exercise program for students, or an incentive for improvements in academic performance. You could even combine Read With Me and Walk With Me in school visits!

     

  • Workplaces: Therapy animal visits in the workplace are a great way to boost employee morale, reduce stress, and increase productivity. And experts encourage employees to take breaks and get in some physical movement to improve health and mitigate the effects of sitting for long periods. Group walks with therapy animals for employees are the perfect opportunity to spread the effects of the human-animal bond while encouraging worker happiness and well-being. Our Animal-Assisted Workplace Well-being initiative can help organizations start Walk With Me programs to support employee well-being.

If you’re a therapy animal handler interested in doing Walk With Me visits, talk with your facility about bringing this initiative into the visits you already make.

How Do I Sign Up?

This initiative is available to all current Pet Partners teams. There’s no cost to be part of Walk With Me—it’s available as an “add-on” to a Pet Partners team registration. As your animal’s best advocate, you should decide if group walking is something your animal enjoys.

If you feel that Walk With Me is right up your team’s alley, any current Pet Partners team can sign up using the Contact Us form on the Pet Partners website. New or renewing teams can sign up through the Special Initiatives step in their online team registration.

If you’re a facility that would like to add Walk With Me visits to an existing program, or even begin a visiting program that includes walking visits, learn more about how to make this part of the activities at your facility.

Additional Resources

Pet Partners volunteers interested in learning more about Walk With Me can find information in the Volunteer Center, including frequently asked questions and a Walk With Me webinar.

You can also purchase a Walk With Me kit from the Pet Partners store, which includes a bound copy of the Walk With Me manual, a backpack, and a water bottle, to make your walking visits even easier.

To learn more about how teams are using Walk With Me visits and the benefits of this initiative, take a look at the Spring 2018 issue of Interactions, the Pet Partners magazine. This issue covers multiple facets of how Walk With Me works with animal-assisted interventions:

  • How a team used Walk With Me to support students with special needs;
  • How a handler and his therapy dog introduced Walk With Me to improve employee well-being at his workplace;
  • How a group of teams demonstrated the value of walking for residents at an assisted living facility;
  • The health benefits of walking for both humans and therapy animals.

And make sure to save the date for the World’s Largest Pet Walk, on the last Saturday in September. This event encourages everyone to get out and walk with pets to demonstrate the health benefits of taking a walk with an animal and the power of the human-animal bond.

Cat and dog with handler during World's Largest Pet Walk 2018

Let’s get walking!

 

References

Andrews, L. W. (2014). Dog walking has psychological benefits for you. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/minding-the-body/201404/dog-walking-has-psychological-benefits-you

Curl, A. L., Bibbo, J., & Johnson, R. A. (2017). Dog walking, the human–animal bond and older adults’ physical health. The Gerontologist, 57(5), 930–939. Retrieved from https://bunchproxy.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=psyh&AN=2017-49486-019&site=ehost-live

Polheber, J., & Matchock, R. (2014). The presence of a dog attenuates cortisol and heart rate in the Trier Social Stress Test compared to human friends. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 37(5), 860–867. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10865-013-9546-1

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