Ther­apy An­i­mals work their magic

Serve Daily - - FRONT PAGE - By Deborah Good­man

Deb­bie Carr, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Ther­apy An­i­mals of Utah, based in Provo, vis­ited a mem­ory care unit in a nurs­ing home in May. When the rest of the res­i­dents left the room to eat a meal, one woman kept Deb­bie’s hair­less Sph­ynx cat, Shen, on her lap, pet­ting him and singing to him. Later, a ther­a­pist from the nurs­ing home told Carr, “I’ve never seen (the res­i­dent) smil­ing so much.”

Mo­ments like these are what keep Carr do­ing what she’s been do­ing for the past 28 years: train­ing and work­ing with ther­apy an­i­mals to as­sist what’s grown into a net­work of 86 ther­apy an­i­mal teams serv­ing 60 fa­cil­i­ties from Lo­gan to San­taquin.

“I’ve learned that we are only touch­ing the tip of the ice­berg of pos­si­bil­ity in tap­ping into the power of the hu­man-an­i­mal bond for our mu­tual ben­e­fit,” Carr says.

It’s this hu­man-an­i­mal bond that com­pels her to log over 1000 miles around the state each month, su­per­vis­ing pro­grams and han­dlers. Ther­apy An­i­mals of Utah works with the state psy­chi­atric hos­pi­tal, Pri­mary Children’s Hos­pi­tal, nurs­ing homes, shel­ters, clin­ics, men­tal health treat­ment pro­grams, schools, li­braries, the Salt Lake City Air­port, and ju­ve­nile courts.

In ad­di­tion to this reg­u­lar work, the non­profit also holds spe­cial events, such as univer­sity stress-re­lief and work­place well­ness events.

One es­pe­cially pop­u­lar service these an­i­mals pro­vide is help­ing in library lit­er­acy pro­grams. Many sci­en­tific stud­ies sup­port the idea that, as Carr ex­plains, “kids per­form bet­ter when they are re­laxed and happy, and read­ing to an an­i­mal works on a deep phys­i­cal level to pro­duce re­lax­ation and feel­ings of safety. Kids read to an an­i­mal that lis­tens, snug­gles, and doesn’t cor­rect them. They feel happy and safe, and they en­joy the ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Many other an­i­mals besides dogs and cats can be reg­is­tered for an­i­mal-as­sisted ther­apy. Al­pacas, do­mes­tic rats, guinea pigs, minia­ture horses, lla­mas, minia­ture pigs, par­rots, and rab­bits can also un­dergo train­ing and form a strong bond with hu­mans.

Ac­cord­ing to the Ther­apy An­i­mals of Utah Web site, dif­fer­ent from emo­tional sup­port an­i­mals and service an­i­mals who serve one in­di­vid­ual in need, a ther­apy an­i­mal “is an an­i­mal that meets cer­tain cri­te­ria, is tested and in­sured, and vis­its peo­ple with its owner/handler in a va­ri­ety of set­tings to pro­vide health, so­cial-emo­tional, and ed­u­ca­tional ben­e­fits.”

Ther­apy An­i­mals of Utah is dif­fer­ent from other or­ga­ni­za­tions that pro­mote an­i­mal-as­sisted in­ter­ven­tions be­cause of its strict cri­te­ria. Both the handler and his or her an­i­mal go through rig­or­ous on­line and hands-on train­ing that must be re­peated ev­ery two years. An­i­mal wel­fare is a top pri­or­ity. Reg­u­lar vet­eri­nary vis­its and a limit on the num­ber of hours an an­i­mal can work are re­quired, as are health and groom­ing stan­dards.

Be­cause this non­profit doesn’t charge for its ser­vices, there is al­ways a need for dona­tions and help with fundrais­ing. Carr en­cour­ages any­one who has a well-man­nered and so­cia­ble an­i­mal to con­sider vol­un­teer­ing to be­come a ther­apy an­i­mal team: “It never ceases to amaze me how ex­pe­ri­enced ther­apy an­i­mals are able to un­der­stand what peo­ple need and min­is­ter to them in ways that their fel­low hu­mans can’t.” For more in­for­ma­tion, visit www.ther­a­pyan­i­mal­su­tah.org.

Shen, a ther­apy an­i­mal, sits nose to nose with an as­sisted liv­ing res­i­dent.

Bear lis­tens pa­tiently as a boy reads to him.

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