(MILLSBORO, Del.) - PAWS for People has continued to grow since it was founded in 2005. The pet therapy program now has more than 600 teams across 4 states. 67 of those teams are in Sussex County. A Lewes family begins the two-step training process Saturday morning.
“We're looking for people who are outoging and friendy, who want to share a pet that loves other people. Could be a dog, could be a cat, could be a bunny," says trainer Susan Potts. Potts says as long as the pet has had their rabies shot, they're qualified to sign up for training.
That means the 5-year-old Australian Labradoodle named Kylie and her owners, Jeannie and Ana, are eligible to be a team.
"It was a good opportunity for Ana to volunteer," Jeannie says.
Ana plans to volunteer by taking Kylie to visit hospitals and schools but before she can do that, they must complete a two-step training process. Today was the orientation to learn what the pet therapy program is all about.
"To lovenly provide to elders, children, people with disabilities, individualized therapeautic visits with a gentle affectionate pet," Potts explains.
During this step, the whole team is evaluated to see how well they work together and can exhibit basic commands.
Jeannie and Ana get to practice the two-hand hold, the two-step approach, and what to do if another dog comes around for Kylie to meet.
In a couple weeks, the team will start the training step and learn how to visit people of different ages and abilities and the different situations they'll encounter. Potts says a lot of practice in this step involves going out for actual visits.
The therapy animals visit people at 22 sites in Sussex County including adults with developmental disabilities at Delaware Mentor for day services in Millsboro. Program Director Mary Fazio loves watching the pets make everyone smile.
"They will obviously pet them and socialze with the dogs and the trainers. Some of them actually use the leashes and help walk the dogs. Some have brushed, some give them treats," says Fazio.
Once Kylie is ready to head to the visitation sites, Jeannie and Ana know she'll warm hearts wherever she goes.
Now that Kylie has completed the orientation process Ana and Jeannie will take her home and keep practicing her basic skills and work towards a higher level of obedience, so that next time she can be evaluated to see if she’s ready to start visiting children and hospitals.
The next PAWS Pet Therapy Training session in Sussex County takes place on May 1st and 15th in Rehoboth. Click here for more dates and times.