Authored By: Maria Drummond, Recreation Therapist at Salt Lake County Youth Services
Trini and her handler, Becca, are a certified Therapy animal team with Intermountain Therapy Animals.
Trini spends an hour each week with the children in emergency shelter at The Christmas Box House, participating in what’s called “Animal Assisted Activities”. Basically, Trini comes to hang out with the kids. They can hold an extra leash and guide her through the Christmas Box House and the outdoor playgrounds around it, or read to her, or just give her belly rubs and hugs.
Becca’s job is to be sure that Trini is enjoying herself and to teach the toddlers she visits about how to handle an animal safely and responsibly. She can educate the kids on basic pet care, and point out the soft touches that Trini loves to get. The children, in turn, benefit from practicing gentle and respectful contact with Trini. These lessons can be applied on a larger scale by reminding the kids about respect and being gentle with their peer interactions as well. They also benefit by being about to show off their living space to Trini, who is consistently interested in seeing what they have to show her. This helps to build a sense of pride in the kids about where they are staying, which helps to create a positive experience while they are staying at The Christmas Box House.
Having Trini and Becca as regular visitors to the Christmas Box House adds a beautifully stabilizing hour to the children’s week. They can look forward to her next visit, and count on Trini wagging her tail with unconditional positive regard as they approach her. Staff can work with Becca about any topics that they would like to build into her next visit. For example, if following instructions has been an issue among the kids, Becca might teach the kids some basic commands to give to Trini and help to point out how helpful it is, and how much can be accomplished when Trini follows the children’s commands to accomplish whatever task they have decided to tackle with her that evening.
We hope to find a volunteer therapy animal team match for our other shelter programs as well, as spending time with a well-trained and responsive animal can help to reduce stress and calm people of many different ages and experiences. If you are looking for a companion animal of your own, visit Salt Lake County Animal Services to see if your match is waiting for you to adopt them! If you’re interested in learning more about volunteering with your animal to be a therapy animal team, visit Intermountain Therapy Animals’ website for details!