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 animals. Read on to find out how Walk With Me can help promote physical and mental well-being in your area.
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:
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!
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 & alpacas can also be a good match for Walk With Me, and the novelty of taking a walk with one of these species might encourage participation by people who would otherwise 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 who enjoys taking walks while on leash, or a bird who 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.
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 or long-term illness and those undergoing physical or 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.
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!
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 engage in physical activity 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 well-being for staff members. 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.
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 your 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.
Make sure to save the date for the World’s Largest Pet Walk, on the fourth 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.
Let’s get walking!
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