Pets are good for your health. So is volunteering. These three opportunities let you combine the two, spreading the healing power of animals.

By Karen Asp
August 21, 2018
female patient hugging a therapy dog in a hospital
Credit: Getty Images

If you're a pet owner, you're likely familiar with that warm, fuzzy feeling you get when you come home from a long day at work to a slobbery, tail-wagging greeting from your four-legged companion that washes away all of the day's bad vibes. Our pets have the ability to affect our emotions on a daily basis, as any dog, cat, or other animal owner will attest. But the ways in which our pets can affect our health goes way beyond basic mood boosting. That's where pet therapy comes in.

Pet therapy is a broad term for a range of animal-assisted therapies and services. It's a growing field in which dogs and other animals help people who need physical or emotion support. Animals can help a range of people with all types of needs, including animal therapies that help autistic children tap into their emotions as well as service animals that help the physically disabled perform basic tasks. They can even help other animals! Read on for three ways you and your pet can get involved in helping others.

Bring Comfort

Many hospitals, senior centers, hospices, schools, and veterans' facilities allow visits from therapy animals. If your dog (or cat or rabbit) is even-tempered, outgoing, and OK with being handled by other people, therapy work may be a fit. "You'll get heartwarming satisfaction seeing your pet brighten someone's day," says Debbie LaChusa, board member and volunteer with Love on a Leash, a nonprofit with pet teams across the country. Pets will need to make supervised visits with you to where you'll be working, and dogs will most likely have to pass obedience classes. The American Kennel Club can connect you to vetted groups; Love on a Leash and Pet Partners can help prepare, certify, and find volunteer opportunities.

Raise a Service Dog

Foster families help raise service dogs who assist people with physical or mental disabilities. As a puppy raiser, you'll teach etiquette and obedience along with socializing the dog from the age of 8 weeks to 14–18 months old. You'll need to plan vacations with the puppy in mind; if she can't come along, she'll need to stay with another volunteer. After the puppy leaves for advanced training, you'll get progress reports and attend the graduation to meet the person she'll be assisting. "Many families stay in touch," says Esther Molina, national puppy program manager for Canine Companions for Independence.

Save a Pet's Life

Animals can also donate blood, and veterinarians need a steady supply to treat ill or injured pets, says Kelly Robertson, D.V.M., director of the blood donation center at IndyVet Emergency and Specialty Hospital. In general, dog and cat donors are healthy 1- to 8-year-olds. Donation takes about five to seven minutes at a veterinarian's office.


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