“To me, animal therapy is getting to the heart of what people are,” said Dina Osakue, community relations director for The Commons. After the community’s former pet therapy dog, Moose, could no longer make his weekly visits, Osakue discovered ARF and arranged to meet with Pet Hug Pack representatives. “We talked and decided it was time for people in East County to have the same opportunities as people over the hill.”
Osakue has seen firsthand the benefits of Moose’s animal therapy visits. She recalled a resident who claimed to dislike dogs but attended, reluctantly, one of the animal visits. It didn’t take long before he was beguiled by the friendly pooch. Eventually he began looking forward to seeing his furry friend. “He would sit by the door waiting for Moose,” said Osakue, who added that the animal visits not only cheer up lonely residents but can break through to patients suffering from physical and mental conditions. “People who don’t normally talk – they’re talking and smiling,” she said. “You can see the change. It’s an immediate response.”
In order to launch animal therapy visits to East County senior communities, hospitals and other locations, the Pet Hug Pack is holding a volunteer drive this weekend. Interested pet owners can learn more about the program and its requirements. Outgoing and well-mannered dogs, cats and small animals can apply.
Pat Mills, People Connect coordinator for the Pet Hug Pack, began volunteering to make visits with her golden retriever, Spiff, six years ago. “I thought I’d like to take all the joy she brought me and share it with other people,” she said. “Smiles come to people’s faces … It’s all this unconditional love they offer.”
Osakue knows expanding the Pet Hug Pack program throughout the area might take time, but she’s proud to be a part of the process. “It’s a long row to hoe, but we’re up for the challenge.” She hopes the drive will attract many volunteers so that seniors at numerous facilities can reap the benefits of animal therapy. “Just share what you have,” she said. “Bring joy to somebody.”
The Pet Hug Pack volunteer drive will be held Saturday, May 12 from 10 to 11:30 a.m. at The Commons at Dallas Ranch, 4751 Dallas Ranch Road in Antioch. Participants should not bring their pets. Owners must be at least 21 and have owned their pet for at least six months. Dogs and cats must be at least 1 year old. Call Dina Osakue at 925-754-7772 or e-mail email@example.com. For general information about the Pet Hug Pack, e-mail Pat Mills at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.arf.net.