by Maureen Greaves
(published with the permission of the author)
I was wandering around a Calgary dog show
and happened upon a booth sponsored by PALS (Pet Access League Society).
PALS is a non-profit organization started in 1982 and is the largest
organization of its kind in North America doing pet visits within one
city. PALS has nearly 500 volunteers and their pets visiting 46 facilities
including hospitals, long term care facilities, group homes and
correctional centers. You can read more about PALS by visiting
At the time my berner, Cutter, was only six
months old, but after talking to the volunteers in the booth I decided
that this was something that I would want to volunteer for in the future.
Several years passed and we added another berner to our family. It was at
a friend’s wedding that the PALS program came up in a conversation and the
person I was talking to said “what are you waiting for?” apply! So I did.
The application itself was simple enough and
right on the web. Very basic questions about myself, my dog, our training,
my dog’s health and temperament were completed and emailed off to PALS. A
few weeks later I received a phone call and was asked to come into the
office with Cutter for an interview. We were asked to bring with us proof
of current vaccinations, a Pet Heath Assessment form completed by our
veterinarian and I had to have a security clearance completed by the RCMP.
The initial interview was a very informal
affair conducted by two ladies and a golden retriever. It included
questions about myself and Cutter, as well as what we expected from the
program and if we had any experience with special needs children or the
They were also watching Cutter’s reaction to
strangers and other dogs. We passed with flying colors and were invited to
the pet screening interview a few weeks later.
The pet screening test was a zoo. There were
between 10-15 potential volunteers, their dogs, the volunteer screeners
and a cat all crammed into a small reception area. What I did not realize
at the time, you were being tested as soon as you walked through the door!
Eventually all of the “screeners” had introduced themselves to me and
thoroughly loved Cutter, which included playing with his tail, feet, mouth
and ears. They also brought the cat by for a reaction.
From there we
were taken one at a time into an even smaller office for more reaction
testing with two screeners. We were asked to start in one corner of the
room and walk towards the middle of the room where we would meet a
“stranger” and engage in a short conversation and continue walking. We did
this several times. The first time it was just the screener/stranger, the
second time the screener had a walking cane, the third time she had a
walker and the final time she had a wheel chair. In the final test I was
told to walk up to one of the screeners, still seated in the wheel chair,
have a short conversation, turn and walk away. As I was walking away a
metal garbage can was dropped on the ground (to simulate a bed pan). This
was to gauge our reaction and recovery. Your dog is allowed to be startled
but must be able to recover in a reasonable amount of time. We PASSED!
With a passing grade we were given our
special royal blue PALS bandana and royal blue short lead that MUST be
worn for all visits to identify us as a PALS volunteer team.
The final step is the volunteer orientation
where we were given our binder and name tag as well as our team
assignment. PALS volunteers work on a team with a team leader and visit
the same facility. We were assigned to the Bethany Care Facility in
Calgary which cares for mostly elderly residents. Although we primarily
visit the Bethany Care, we have also been able to attend a few special
visits at the Society for the Treatment of Autism.
Volunteering in a pet visitation program has
been very rewarding and we are thoroughly enjoying the experience.
Cutter’s only complaint is that he has to be groomed before we go!
If you are interested in becoming a
volunteer in the Calgary area, go to the PALS website.
Kathy Kennedy's Emily doing Therapy work
Other websites on pet therapy:
Nose to Nose: A
Memoir of Healing
by Barry Schieber.
This book is about Barry and his dog, Moritz,
as they visit hospital patients in Montana who
benefit in a gentle and mysterious way from
Moritz's presence and open nature
for more information see their website