Pets as Therapy - 10 Reasons to Volunteer
Gentle Great Danes, mischievous pugs, devoted Dachshunds, fearless terriers — dogs come in all shapes and sizes, with different characters, coat types and waggy tails. However, there’s one thing that all breeds share. Every four-legged friend has the capacity to make people happier and healthier.
This is something that the charity Pets As Therapy (PAT) knows only too well. Founded in 1983 by Lesley Scott-Ordish, a dog owner who understood the unique bond between humans and animals, today PAT strives to ensure that everyone in the UK, no matter their circumstances, has access to the companionship of a dog.
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PAT volunteers are simply caring dog owners who, along with their pets, visit a range of establishments including residential homes, day care centres, schools, universities, hospitals, hospices and prisons. These regular visits bring comfort and great pleasure to people of all ages living in local communities, people who enjoy being able to touch and stroke a friendly dog.
Any good-natured pet can become a PAT dog, and no special training or qualifications are required. All the charity asks is that the dog is fit and healthy, over nine months old and has lived with their owner for at least six months. They also need to be able to pass PAT’s temperament assessment, which the majority of dogs do with flying colours.
10 Rewarding Reasons To Volunteer With Your Dog
1. You can help people who feel lonely and isolated
Residents at nursing homes, who miss being a dog owner or have always loved animals, are thrilled when a PAT dog comes to visit. Stroking an adorable pooch can bring back many happy memories and brighten up their day. These PAT visits, according to staff and families, often improves a person’s overall mood and wellbeing.
2. You could boost a child’s confidence
Loving dogs are non-judgemental, they think everyone is great. And as they never criticise or correct you, they make the perfect reading companion in the classroom. PAT dogs visit schools as part of the charity’s Read2Dogs scheme. They listen to young people reading aloud, helping them to improve their literacy skills and encourage confidence and concentration.
3. You may help to cheer up a patient
Simply stroking a pet has a calming effect. Your heart beats more slowly and your blood pressure reduces, which in turn can reduce stress or tension. PAT volunteers who visit hospitals with their dogs can distract patients who are perhaps anxious about an operation or medical procedure. Visits may also aid a person’s recovery and rehabilitation.
4. Dogs do wonders for your self-esteem
Snoopy and Charlie Brown, Scooby and Shaggy, Gromit and Wallace — it’s easy to name great partnerships (fictional and in the real world) that demonstrate a dog’s ability to make its owner feel invincible. Anyone anxious about volunteering shouldn’t be, as you and your loyal pet become a PAT team together. And with a trusty pal by your side, anything is possible.
5. Volunteering aids good mental health
Any act of kindness, big or small, not only makes a difference to someone else’s life, it can also make you have a more positive outlook. Volunteering with your dog and seeing first-hand the impact you’re both having on others makes you feel proud, appreciated and valued. It’s that feel-good boost that ultimately has a huge effect on promoting good mental health.
6. You could help reduce stress in court
PAT teams also volunteer at crown courts, where the dog’s primary role is to sit in the waiting area with vulnerable victims or witnesses before they enter the main courtroom. This interaction helps individuals stay relaxed and calm, but dogs have also been known to bring a smile to the faces of barristers, solicitors, police and court liaison officers, even a judge.
7. You may calm nerves at exam time
It’s not only school children who benefit from PAT visits, university students also appreciate the chance to cuddle a four-legged friend, especially as exam time approaches. Many undergraduates can feel anxious while revising and just before sitting an exam, therefore are delighted by a doggy distraction. Others who live away from home are simply missing a family pet.
8. Volunteering is fun and enlightening
Being a volunteer often gives you the chance to make new acquaintances, perhaps from different walks of life who you’d not encounter otherwise. Whether it’s the elderly care home resident with a fascinating past, or a fellow volunteer who recommends dog-friendly holiday destinations, engaging with new people can be inspiring. What’s more, it’s fun.
9. You can volunteer from home
Most PAT volunteers visit establishments in their local community, but if you and your dog are unable to travel or would prefer to volunteer from the comfort of your home, then it’s possible with PAT. During lockdown, the charity launched a Virtual Read2Dogs scheme, where school children chatted to dogs via Zoom. And there’s also a Write2Dogs initiative, that encourages young people to write letters.
10. You get to share some dog love
Dog owners enjoy nothing more than sharing stories about their pet’s antics. They’re also proud of their well-behaved dogs, and they’ll beam from ear to ear if you happen to mention their furry companion is cute. As a PAT volunteer, you’re actively encouraged to talk about your dog on visits and let other people love it too. There’s no better feeling in the world.
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