Spreading happiness with a bark or meow

Tomy Hillers

Seeking: pet owners willing to brighten someone’s day.

The call for volunteers comes from Iowa State’s K-9 Club, which needs help with its pet therapy program. Members of the club visit hospitals and long-term care facilities in the Ames area to bring the companionship and comfort of pets to those who may no longer own their own dog or cat.

The program provides services to facilities such as Beloit Children’s Home and Story County Hospital in Nevada.

However, the members have had to turn down requests for services due to a lack of volunteers.

“Last semester I received a request from a man whose wife was suffering from Alzheimer’s. But we simply don’t have enough pets or volunteers to take care of these types of requests,” said Jennifer Slovak, junior in veterinary medicine and member of the K-9 Club. The group needs more help, she said.

“We just need more volunteers, and maybe even another organization to start,” she said. “We visit two care facilities per week, and we are not able to fulfill all of the requests we receive for pet therapy.”

Members usually meet Saturdays and Sundays and visit one facility per day, generally spending about an hour per visit.

“Most of the people in long-term care love to sit and tell stories about the pets they had when they lived on their own,” Slovak said.

Those who receive visits anticipate them, she said.

“It isn’t simply for the people because it really makes your heart feel good to see these people happy,” she said.

The group is also receiving requests from people who live at home but have difficulty taking care of themselves.

The pets used during the visits are usually owned by the volunteers in the program, said Rob Dyke, K-9 club member.

“The pets need to be vaccinated for rabies, and we look for dogs that are comfortable with other dogs and won’t be shy around people,” said Dyke, junior in veterinary medicine.

To help pets and their owners, K-9 club members organized a program that helps them become more accustomed to changes in the environment.

Pet therapy is very effective in a short-term scope, Dyke said.

“A little gratitude helps break up the monotony for these people,” he said.