TOPEKA (KSNT) – A local nonprofit is showing the community the benefits of having a therapy animal. The Prairieland Visiting Animals Association works with therapy animals and their handlers.
They also provide therapy animals for young people testifying in court, patients and staff at local hospitals, as well as bringing them to the library for events such as Read With Me where kids can read to one of the dogs.
The group started 25 years ago and is all volunteer-based. The dogs are trained with positive reinforcement. Evaluator Sharon Fricke has been a member for 17 years and knows firsthand the benefits of having a therapy dog.
“I got my first therapy dog when I had cancer. She, that’s the miracle I knew,” she said. “I would come home from my treatment every week and she would lie with me with her head on my stomach. And I would sleep and she would be with me. I believe that’s why I’m here today.”
Fricke said she’s hoping for more handlers who are willing to commit to the program.
Praireland encourages handlers to choose which national pet therapy group they want to join. One example is Pet Partners. To be registered as a Pet Partners team, you and your animal have to be evaluated by a licensed Pet Partners Evaluator and meet the following steps:
- You have to have an obedient animal trained with positive reinforcement.
- You have to take a handlers course from Pet Partners online or in person.
- You have to sign up for an evaluation where the evaluators will give you information of what’s expected.
- After the evaluation, you’ll either pass or be deemed not ready. If you don’t pass, you can take the evaluation again.
- Once you pass, you’ll send your information to Pet Partners where they’ll send you a badge.
- You’ll shadow someone for a while.
To find a full list of what to bring to the evaluation, click here.
“Having a therapy dog is one of the most wonderful….having a dog is wonderful. Having a therapy dog is wonderful because you’re making the world a better, sweeter place,” Fricke said.
She said they also evaluate cats, pigs, horses, birds, rabbits and other small animals. If they don’t have an evaluator who knows these animals, they’ll find one.
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