By Janet McAfee

Animal Samaritans is pleased to help the students of Marywood-Palm Valley School lower their blood pressure, strengthen their immune systems, and most importantly, reduce their stress levels during final exams week. Volunteers with Animal Samaritans’ Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) program will bring their dogs to the Marywood campus in Rancho Mirage to allow students to pet and interact with nature’s natural soothers prior to taking their final exams. The AAT visits are scheduled from 8am to 10:15am the following days, with the following Animal Samaritans’ AAT program team members:

Wednesday, June 5:
Suzy Walker and Charlie  (Cavalier King Charles spaniel)
Anne Leiboh and Harley (black lab mix)
Sherri Halstead and Elvira (standard poodle)

Thursday, June 6:
Marcy Blumstein and Oliver (akita)
Betty Kerr and Dakota (shar pei mix)
Doris Scott and Crosby (labradoodle)

Friday, June 7:
Mary Danielle and Jack (German shorthair mix)
Estelle Dahl and Pinkie (doberman)
Sherri Halstead and Elvira (standard poodle)

For more than a decade, Animal Samaritans AAT program has been providing free animal therapy visits to local hospital patients, residents at local nursing homes and assisted living facilities, students in special needs classrooms, and incarcerated youth at Juvenile Hall. The therapy animals, which have included the occasional therapy cat, also visit abused and abandoned children at Father’s Heart Ranch and Shelter from the Storm. Bringing therapy pets to University campuses to relieve students’ stress is a growing trend. So why not do the same for our high-schoolers?

Barbara Klein, a community service organizer at Marywood-Palm Valley, animal rescuer, and supporter of Animal Samaritans, initiated the visits. The year prior, she organized a group of Marywood students to create dog walking paths next to Animal Samaritans’ no-kill animal shelter in Thousand Palms. After the seasonal spring winds, Animal Samaritans is ready for the students to return and transform the lot next door from a vacant sand lot to doggy walk central.

Prior to admission into the AAT program, potential therapy dogs must receive their Canine Good Citizen certificates through the American Kennel Club. Next, the dogs must pass AnSams’ temperament test to ensure they are suitable for the AAT program. Potential AAT dogs are tested in over 16 specific areas. These include: walking well on a loose leash, obedience around other dogs, calm reactions to startling noises, and tolerance to rough handling, such as fur grabbing and ear tugging.

Ideal AAT animals are smart, accepting of strangers, non-aggressive toward other dogs, and have an innate desire to work. The program is free; however, pet owners pay a nominal fee for their animal’s therapy vests, and all AAT volunteers must become members of Animal Samaritans SPCA. To learn more about the program, pet owners are encouraged to call Animal Samaritans Volunteer Coordinator at 760-396-7313.

About Animal Samaritans
Animal Samaritans SPCA, a 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization founded in 1978, is committed to improving the lives of animals and people. As the Coachella Valley’s most comprehensive animal welfare organization, they strive to one day eliminate the needless suffering and abuse of homeless and unwanted animals. Programs and services in place to save the lives of healthy and treatable animals include prevention through humane education, low-cost and no-cost spay and neuter, low-cost vaccinations, animal sheltering and pet adoptions. In addition, more than one hundred volunteers from their Animal Assisted Therapy programs visit disabled children in special needs classrooms, nursing homes, and hospitals, while their Animal Assisted Activities teams see residents at Juvenile Hall.