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Front Page » September 12, 2006 » Local News » Paws Program Adds Quality Of Life
Published 3,817 days ago

Paws Program Adds Quality Of Life

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Staff writer

This patient receives some tender loving care from the PAWS rabbit volunteer.

Volunteers are needed in this area, now more than ever. Every volunteer hour spent makes a difference in someone's life. Volunteers are the foundation of this society.

Those volunteers who love animals know the value of an animal's presence in their own life. Imagine what a difference an animal visit could make to someone without access or facilities to have a pet.

There are those volunteers now who are sharing their pets to make a difference in someone's life. The PAWS program is alive and well at Active Re-Entry in Price. PAWS means people and animals working to serve, and service is the driving force of these teams.

The animals are family pets whose nature is people oriented, and Active Re-Entry is in need of those special human and animal volunteers in Emery County. At the present time, the only teams now serving are in Carbon County, with the exception of one team. That team is from the north end of Emery County, and the need for teams to volunteer in the south part of Emery County is great.

PAWS is a program that uses these animals to facilitate positive changes in a wide array of therapeutic settings. The teams now serving visit schools, nursing homes and libraries. The special animals used in PAWS must be reliable, predictable and dependable.

As a part of enrolling in the PAWS program, an animal is required to have veterinarian checks, be of a mellow temperament, like being touched, and like people. When the team is at work, the animal is known as a therapy animal. The animal is the important part of the team, and the handler must take joy in watching the animal work.

There are 18 animal/handler teams now enrolled in the PAWS program with Active Re-Entry. These teams consist of 16 dogs and their handlers, one rabbit/handler team, and one miniature horse and handler team.

Each setting the teams serve in has its own ambiance and atmosphere. In the nursing home setting, an animal must love to be petted. Another facet of training is the animal's response to sudden movements and sounds. The nursing home setting may not always be quiet and subdued. The animal must not react adversely to sudden sounds and movements. During the motion of petting an animal, many people ignore any pain that they may have been feeling.

As an animal visits a nursing home, the therapeutic part of the visit can be physical in nature. When a resident is hindered in mobility due to surgery or other medical reasons, the motion of petting an animal may lend a great deal to the therapy in allowing a person to use muscles otherwise restricted.

During the summer months, the Price Library summer reading program is visited by PAWS teams. One handler told the story of a young girl who had difficulty reading aloud. As the animal sat patiently and listened to the girl read, who was reading at barely a whisper, the reader realized that the animal was never going to be critical of her ability to read. The more time she spent reading to the dog, the more confident she became in her own abilities to read aloud. By the end of the summer, the girl's confidence level and reading ability had both greatly increased.

The school setting is much the same as the library setting. Those children who have reading problems soon come to realize that the animal will listen and not criticize and the students become more proficient in their reading skills.

As a handler of a PAWS animal, the handler must allow the animal to do its job. The handler is there only to supervise the animal, and is not to interact with the seniors or the children. The therapeutic value of the animal interaction will surface and take over the situation.

In many situations, the animal visits may be the only thing the senior or child has to look forward to. For those who are in nursing homes and their families live out of the area, visits can be scarce. The PAWS teams are set up on a schedule to visit every week at the same time. These visits give many patients something to look forward to.

A handler told the story of a senior in a nursing home who wouldn't speak to anyone. When the PAWS animal came to visit, the person carried on an entire conversation with the dog. When the visit ended, the nurses asked the handler to come back on a regular basis because that was the first time anyone had heard this person speak. In this instance, the presence of the PAWS animal increased cognitive and communication skills of the senior citizen.

In the school or library setting, the student soon realizes the value and fun in reading by reading to the animals who are never critical of their skills. Reading to the animal also makes the children want to read.

As a side effect of the teams' service, the animals become very well known. Many handlers tell of instances where they are out in the community and the children recognize them as handlers. The conversation always begins with "How is (the animal's name)?" No one seems to know the owners' names, but all the children know the animals' names.

Many handlers have related how the experience of volunteering with PAWS has changed their own lives. "It helps to bring comfort to someone else, and our animals are happier when they are working. They know when the leash comes out and the scarf goes on, they are going visiting. Our dogs have been known to go get their scarf and bring it to its owner as a hint they want to go to work," said Darlene Erni of PAWS.

Nancy Bentley of Active Re-Entry said, "There is a training and testing process for the handlers and their animals. We also have certain standards the animals must meet. There is a professional dog trainer who has volunteered to help owners to familiarize the animals with objects they are unaccustomed to, such as wheelchairs. To many of our seniors, this is the only portions of their lives they feel they have control over."

To volunteer for the PAWS program, contact Bentley at Active Re-Entry at 435-637-4950.

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