Our seniors have so much to offer, yet as the aging process continues, many find themselves out of their homes, sharing space with strangers, and wonder about the purpose of their existence. Often a visiting team handler will hear, "I used to teach piano or sing at church, but I can't anymore." The need to feel wanted and needed grows with age. Often, our elderly withdraw because they do not want to be a bother to family members or friends. To a visiting pet, there is nothing useless about gentle grooming or a warm lap to snuggle in. Our loved ones may ask, "Who would want to be with me?" Our pets always do. The interaction is specific to the two, the human and pet. It's magical when our pets illicit spontaneous laughter and delight.
As one transitions to the need for hospice services, the team is present as often as possible. We strive to share personal stages of living, and often provide comfort and acceptance to family members.
Our teams are welcomed in the Metro libraries, as children and even teens take the opportunity to practice their reading skills with a non-judgmental pet. Our pets listen attentively to the sound of the reader's voice, offering encouragement and sharing the love for the written word. How enjoyable it is to see parents reading with their children to our dogs, or little ones making up the most incredible stories to entertain their very own pet audience!
Teams visiting public or private schools work together with staff in order to set goals. Students are given the opportunity to learn how to establish appropriate boundaries, to set achievable goals, and to understand the need to control impulsive and compulsive behaviors. Our youth can often remain focused on a set of directions and complete them with the pet partner's leash in hand. Our teams may also assist in media centers, act as a motivation tool in classrooms or special education resource rooms. Assistance is offered in speech therapy. Physical therapy and occupational therapy is much more motivating with a pet assisting. It is amazing to watch a student improve in all areas with the appropriate pet partner at his side.
Veteran services are given high priority. Teams make regular visits in order to share and provide comfort and encouragement as they sit at the side of men and women who have served or are awaiting deployment. H.A.L.O. is also involved in the grief and healing process with family members of fallen soldiers.
Professionals in this field may bring their qualified therapeutic pet to work as a valuable resource to clients. Sometimes it can be less difficult to discuss with a pet those issues which keep us from functioning in this society. Our pets certainly have the ability to open doors which have been locked tightly and guarded. H.A.L.O. guidelines have been drafted for this area to insure professionalism, confidentiality, and safety for all.
PROFESSIONAL LICENSED COUNSELORS
Children with a variety of special needs enjoy the benefits a pet relationship can offer. Educational or social activities are individualized in order to meet each child's needs. Public school classrooms, Church of the Servant's "Hannah's Promise," St. Luke's "Samuel's Call," The Children's Center, and specific disability support groups are just a few of the programs H.A.L.O. volunteers may find their niche in the world of animal assisted therapy and activities.
Our teams make scheduled visits under supervision to provide health and wellness. Exercises can be incorporated into sessions which promote internal growth, as children often buy into everything external to satisfy the need to belong. Community events and scheduled affairs are a favorite for H.A.L.O. teams. Our aim is to demonstrate with our pet partners that there are always ways to better one's quality of life, even under uncomfortable circumstances. During one brief visit, youth of all ages have the chance to be effective "Junior Handlers" with the responsibility of exercising a loving, obedient, and disciplined animal.
There may be several avenues which will suit a team, and others will prefer one setting.
ASSISTED LIVING AND
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CHURCH OUTREACH PROGRAMS
Not one of us enters a hospital as a patient without anticipation, anxiety, and fear of the unknown. We feel we have been yanked out of our element and are totally at the mercy of the professionals. It makes no difference if we're in the ER for a hopeful quick fix, or have been admitted for an extended stay. When a pet visits, we find ourselves receiving the perfect comfort from an objective source. A visiting team is given a list of those patients who have the need to hold, pet, or talk to an animal who listens, and does not come in with a worried face or false optimism. For the length of the visit, we are free to feel all emotions. An animal accepts us and loves us, regardless of what we are facing. They allow us a welcome distraction. They free us to take a hard look at our reality, and assure us we are not alone. Our visiting pets are just as much a source of comfort and relief for family members and staff as well.
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Many teams have found their place in H.A.L.O. through specific outreach programs. Those who may not be able to leave their homes safely miss that feeling of being connected to a faith family. A visiting team can bridge that need. Respite care, cancer support, Sunday School programs, and Vacation Bible School are just a few of the ministries our volunteers may choose from to promote the church family.
YOUTH AND FAMILY SERVICES