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Volunteer Appreciation Week 2020: Celebrating Pet Partners Volunteers

Elisabeth Van Every

Volunteer Appreciation Week 2020 is April 19-25, an opportunity for organizations all over the country to show our gratitude to the volunteers who support our work. At Pet Partners, our mission is built on the efforts of thousands of volunteers across the U.S. and more than a dozen other countries. Pet Partners therapy animal teams make more than three million visits each year, bringing the power of the human-animal bond to healthcare facilities, seniors, veterans, students, people recovering from disasters and trauma, first responders, transit facilities, court systems, and many more. Volunteer instructors educate prospective handlers and prepare them to be advocates for their animals and for safe animal-assisted interventions. Team evaluators screen and rate therapy animal teams to help ensure that every therapy animal visit is safe and effective. And leaders of Community Partners and Community Groups help bring the benefits of the human-animal bond to their communities. We’re profoundly grateful for every one of our volunteers, and proud to support them in the life-changing work that they volunteer to do. In this post we want to share a few stories of Pet Partners volunteers that represent the efforts of everyone who is part of our Therapy Animal Program. Thank you to all of our amazing volunteers for your dedication and the work you do.

Ivy Williams of Anchorage, Alaska

Ivy has been a Pet Partners handler since June of 2019. Ivy impressed Pet Partners staff with her great questions and her desire to learn as much as possible about best practices for visiting with Appa, her Flemish Giant rabbit. Once Ivy and Appa had completed a few visits, Ivy checked in again with more questions and to let us know how much fun they were having. Ivy and Appa now visit three times per week at All For the Kids Pediatric Therapy Clinic. Ivy says, “We love seeing the bright-eyed looks on the kids’ faces when they come in for the first time and see a giant bunny sitting on the table. Priceless! When a therapist tells me later, ‘Appa is awesome. That was the most productive visit we have had,’ my heart is like, ‘This is why we love visits.’ It is a lot of fun, and the kids seem to really like him.”

Mercedes Iacoviello of Buenos Aires, Argentina

Pet Partners now has international volunteers in more than a dozen countries over four continents. Today, in honor of #VolunteerAppreciationWeek, we say a special thank you to Mercedes Iacoviello. Mercedes resides in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Having joined Pet Partners in 2018, Mercedes is both an international team evaluator and a handler with her mixed breed dog, Peggy. Last September, Mercedes travelled to San Antonio, TX for our Partnering with A Purpose Conference, where she was a panelist. Mercedes, along with our other international volunteers, helps ensure that the high standards of our Therapy Animal Program and the benefits of the human-animal bond reach people all over the world.

To stay connected to her therapy animal work despite social distancing, Mercedes recently started a YouTube channel and uploads videos of her dogs to share with the facility she visits at. The residents are very interested in her dogs’ lives at home, so creating these videos helps give the residents a glimpse into their lives when they’re not visiting.

Judith Young of Durham, North Carolina

Judith recently started a new Pet Partners group, Pet Partners of NC Triangle. Judi has been a Pet Partners handler since 2011. Her first registered therapy dog was Jackson, an Australian shepherd. Jackson not only provided therapy on visits; he also helped Judi with her own mother’s passing. When Jackson passed over the rainbow bridge, Judi wanted to keep his memory alive. She told us, “He loved [therapy work] so much that I became a team evaluator in his honor.” Judi has been a Pet Partners team evaluator since 2014.

Judi is currently registered with Chase, a border collie, and Ryder, an Australian shepherd. Judi and Chase are pictured here on a visit to the Mayday Trauma Conference.



Georgann Freasier of Little Rock, Arkansas

Georgann started with Pet Partners in 1998. Since then, Georgann has had seven therapy animal partners. Her current partner is Yeti, a yellow Labrador retriever. Georgann takes her commitment to the human-animal bond and her service to her community very seriously. She has been a Pet Partners instructor since 2012 and a team evaluator since 2013.

“Being an instructor fits in that I love teaching (was a special ed teacher back in the day in my other life) and even more, I love the opportunity to mentor folks through the process of becoming a Pet Partners team. Evaluating has the added benefit of interacting with a variety of animals as well.”

To stay engaged with therapy animal work despite COVID-19 and social distancing, Georgann has been participating in virtual visits with Yeti.

Kathy Tomlinson of Justin, Texas

Kathy has been with Pet Partners since 2000 and has had five therapy animal partners. Her current partner is Rhia, a bearded collie. Kathy is also a Pet Partners team evaluator. She was an evaluator from 2007 to 2011; she took a break for a time and stepped back into the team evaluator role in 2019. Recently, Kathy graciously agreed to travel to do an evaluation in Chickasaw, Oklahoma. Unfortunately, due to the coronavirus, that evaluation had to be postponed. While Kathy enjoys evaluating, her first love is being a handler. “I grew up with a dog, and from the time I first heard about ‘canine candy-stripers’ when I was in college, I knew this was work I wanted to be a part of!”

Tiger Maynard-White of New London, Connecticut

Tiger has been with Pet Partners since 2018 and is currently registered with her mastiff partner, Duke. In addition to being a dedicated therapy animal team, Tiger has spent the last year volunteering with Pet Partners’ Operations department. She has spent countless hours manually creating and updating facility account information in our database.

With COVID-19 and social distancing preventing in-person visiting, Tiger has been staying very busy by virtually visiting at a local facility. In addition, she has also coordinated a pen pal program at her local facility where people can write letters and signs for residents and staff.

We are so grateful for Tiger’s volunteerism with us and the difference she has made at Pet Partners.