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Cuddle Up to These Animal-friendly Volunteer Opportunities

By Sandy Beck

Tallahassee-Leon Community Animal Service Center

The Tallahassee-Leon Community Animal Service Center (TLCASC) takes in more than 9,000 homeless animals every year. They rely on community members to open their hearts and homes, providing love and shelter for these deserving animals.

While the public mostly knows them as “the place across from Tom Brown Park to go adopt an animal,” many people don’t realize that they offer a wide variety of related services including a volunteer program, foster program, and a lost and found program that tries to reunite lost and found pets with their owners.

Volunteers are needed to greet potential adopters and guide them through the process of finding the furry forever friend that is the best fit for their family. Volunteers also work directly with the animals, exercising and socializing them and keeping them as comfortable as possible during their time at the shelter, in addition to providing cuddle and playtime for the animals and feeding and bathing them.

The minimum age to volunteer is 16, but the TLCASC encourages younger children to get involved by hosting donation drives and helping to educate the community about the importance of adopting versus buying a pet, and spaying and neutering. Groups, such as Girl and Boy Scout troops, work on special projects that have included picnic tables, adoption booth displays, and photography projects.

The TLCASC also hosts rabies, microchip, and ID clinics for the public, and they will also microchip your pet at any time for a reduced cost.

Foster Parents are also needed. These volunteers provide a home to some of the special needs animals while they wait for their forever homes, such as a dog or cat who is very young when it arrives, is older and needs a little extra “TLC,” or has medical needs and needs a less stressful environment to recover.

For more information about how you can get involved or to fill out a volunteer application, visit: http://www.talgov.com/animals/animals-volunteer.aspx or contact Volunteer Coordinator Grayson Walters at Grayson.walters@talgov.com or 850.891.2790.

The Tallahassee Memorial Hospital Animal Therapy Pets

Several years ago, we adopted a sweet black Lab mix from the TLCASC. Buddy was a timid puppy who needed a lot of reassurance and physical contact while he settled into his new life. As a teacher, I had a little second-grade boy who had similar needs. “Joey” was anxious and could not concentrate on schoolwork. My principal allowed me to try an experiment that might be mutually beneficial for Joey and Buddy. I took Buddy to school one day, explained that he was very insecure and asked for a volunteer who would do his work on the floor while petting Buddy. All hands went up. Of course, I selected Joey. Joey wrote and illustrated a lovely poem with one hand, while calmly, petting Buddy with the other hand; it was the first assignment he had completed all year.

By now, everyone knows that loving contact with an animal—petting, cuddling or just sharing quality time—can provide people with physical and emotional health benefits. The Tallahassee Memorial Hospital (TMH) Animal Therapy Program is based on this premise.

Therapy animals tend to calm most patients and engage otherwise unresponsive ones. Animal Therapy volunteers and their pets spend time with the hospital’s patients to improve their mental health, motivation, rehabilitation, pain management, and stress relief.

Volunteers and their pets participate in special training to become TMH Animal Therapy Teams. Teams are trained according to standards established by the Delta Society, the international sanctioning organization for more than 10,000 therapy teams worldwide. Each animal is also examined by a veterinarian and certified to be in good health.

TMH Animal Therapy currently has more than 150 teams visiting 50 different facilities, in groups and as individual teams. Therapy animals are mostly dogs, but they also have cats, rabbits, miniature horses and even the nation’s only registered therapy mule.

Bogey, a Boykin Spaniel, with her handler, Richard, is one of the teams that volunteers at the Tallahassee Memorial Rehab Center twice every week. On one of their visits, Bogey greeted the patients, as usual, with her wagging tail and soft eyes. In the corner of the room, a woman alone in wheel chair said “dog.” This may not seem like much, but these are the first words that this woman spoke since she entered Rehab. Richard skillful guided Bogey to her, and, carrying her brush in her mouth, the dog began to work her magic by offering her long, floppy ears to be brushed. The woman smiled and unspoken communication began to unfold. In the weeks to come, full conversations were exchanged among the therapists, the patient and Bogey. A door was opened all because of a furry heart on a leash.

If you are interested in volunteering with Tallahassee Memorial Animal Therapy, your pet must know basic obedience prior to beginning their training. You must have owned your pet for at least six months, and he or she must be at least one year old. Learn more about how to get involved at: http://www.tmh.org/VolunteerAnimalTherapy, or contact Program Coordinator Stephanie Perkins at Stephanie.Perkins@tmh.org or 850-321-3787.

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