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Jennifer Wurch, Past Students, Spring 2009

Bringing pets to comfort those in need

By Jennifer Wurch

Some of the animals at the San Diego Humane Society are themselves volunteers. While most shelter animals are contained to cages, many of the critters at the SDHS get to break free from their temporary homes every week and visit people who can’t have pets. This is all thanks to the humans who donate their time to the Pet-Assisted Therapy program.

People living in hospitals, convalescent homes or other facilities usually don’t get the chance to interact with animals. But each month, volunteers tote animals like puppies, kittens, rabbits and guinea pigs to these places to bring a moment of peace and serenity, to appreciative patients.

Judith Eisenberg, the Pet-Assisted Therapy Coordinator, says that the program has 110 volunteers and 15 animals they bring to people. The volunteers go to a given location for one hour, once a month, for one year. They visit 52 facilities regularly with 42 on the waiting list.

“Our goal is to enhance and encourage the human-animal bond,” Eisenberg said, adding that the visits help people escape reality for a time. “They can just be normal for an hour.”

Cheri Fairchild, a volunteer with Pet-Assisted Therapy for 10 years, says the visits provide comfort to those without pets. “It takes away pain,” she said. “People forget about what they are going through.”

The Pet-Assisted Therapy program, which has been making a difference in the San Diego community for over 30 years, has brought joy to countless people, using handy tools, equipment and cages (top rat cage comparisons help a lot). Young people in juvenile detention centers are given the chance to experience the human-animal bond, which can play a major role in psychological well-being. People in convalescent homes have the opportunity to interact with a gentle animal. Fairchild says that her goal is to get as many people to touch the animals as possible.

“I say ‘Take my hand. Look into my eyes. You have to trust me.’ And then I bring the animal closer.”

Fairchild said she has seen countless lives that have been touched by the volunteers of the Pet-Assisted Therapy Program.

“You share so much love and positive energy. It brings back memories of their beloved animals.”

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