My pet, the therapist

Pet Partners cultivate the indescribable human-animal bond

Grace Mercurio
Posted 1/31/24

Some people were born to be doctors, lawyers, artists, or athletes, and some animals were born to be therapy animals—comforting strangers, building community, and bringing joy to all they …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

E-mail
Password
Log in

My pet, the therapist

Pet Partners cultivate the indescribable human-animal bond

Posted

Some people were born to be doctors, lawyers, artists, or athletes, and some animals were born to be therapy animals—comforting strangers, building community, and bringing joy to all they visit. At Pet Partners of Long Island, therapy animals have the opportunity to share their unconditional love to the people who need it the most.

For almost 50 years, Pet Partners has improved human health and well-being by nourishing the human-animal bond across the country, and around the world. Nine different species register with Pet Partners, including dogs, cats, equines, rabbits, guinea pigs, rats, birds, mini pigs, llamas, and alpacas.

While the Long Island community group includes animals of all shapes and sizes, each pet has a sharp intuition and loving nature that spreads joy everywhere they go, from nursing homes and assisted-living centers, to veterans’ homes and summer camps.

Argus, a 10-year-old greyhound that was rehomed from a racetrack in Florida, particularly enjoys going to schools and libraries as part of the Pet Partners Read with Me initiative. Argus’s handler, chairman of Pet Partners of Long Island Thomas Tulipan, brings Argus to schools and libraries to interact with children as they learn. Studies show that the presence of a therapy dog motivates students to attend reading activities outside of school and improves reading performance across multiple parameters, including correct word and punctuation recognition.

On the road to volunteering in a variety of settings, each Pet Partner animal has had their own unique journey to becoming a therapy animal.

When Audry Hicks adopted Toby, a goldendoodle, he often barked and was quite misbehaved. Yet, after six short months of training, Toby was ready to become a Pet Partner therapy dog. The goldendoodle helped Hicks to cope with her grief following the death of her husband, and he now extends the same stress benefits and health relief to everyone he meets at Pet Partner events.

Toby has participated in Stony Brook University’s PALS (Pet Away Life Stress) Program, in which students reap the anxiety-reducing benefits of the therapy animals during periods of heightened stress, including midterms and finals week.

“I could not even get out of the car fast enough—all of the college kids came zooming to my car,” shared Hicks. “They were all hugging him. This was their first day of freshman orientation, and it relaxed them to be with the dogs.”

Since joining Pet Partners of Long Island around 2008, Tulipan has had a handful of greyhounds registered as therapy animals, each primed with indescribable intuition to help those who need it most.

“There was a lady sitting on the phone crying, and my one dog, Delilah, went over and rested her head on the lady’s knee all by herself,” shared Tulipan. “A lot of dogs will do that. A lot of dogs just need a chance to show that they can do that.”

Therapy dog Luke, a sheepadoodle, indeed needed a chance to show all the love he could spread as a therapy animal. When Luke was adopted at 14 months old, his handler, Linda, admits that he was wild and misbehaved; yet, she never met a dog so intuitive. After training and qualifying as a therapy dog, Luke became a whole different dog when wearing his red leash and bandana that boasts his name and “Pet Partners.”

“At an assisted-living facility, there was a woman in a corner all by herself. Luke walked over, and the woman looked at him and smiled and said something to him. The recreation director said, ‘I have been here for two years and I’ve never seen this woman ever respond to anything, and I had never seen her smile,’” shared Linda. “Luke, for some reason, can tell when he is needed, and he will kind of stay with that person more than he stays with others.”

Perhaps the most unconventional of the crew is Pickles, the 150-pound potbelly pig. Pickles had been purchased from a pet store, and promptly returned to the store when he became too big. His handler, Claudia Domb, rescued the friendly, fun-loving pig, and got Pickles his therapy animal certification.

“I have had autistic children come to my house, and they lay on top of him and roll around the floor, and he snuggles up to them. He is not at all affected by sudden movements or things you sometimes see in children with autism,” explained Domb. “It is almost like he knows that people need him to be who he is. It is hard to believe, but if you saw it, you would understand.”

A selective organization, Pet Partners ensures all animals and humans meet their high standards through comprehensive handler and animal testing and training. Handlers and pets take a course and must pass an evaluation test to become a registered therapy animal with Pet Partners, along with medical clearance from a veterinarian and a background check of the handler. During evaluation, Tulipan ensures that the animal is looking at their handler for guidance, and the pair work together as a team. Each community group is equipped with $2 million in liability insurance, and animals and handlers are reevaluated every two years.

If you are interested in improving human health and well-being by nourishing the human-animal bond, invite Pet Partners into your facility, business, or organization by visiting www.petpartners.org