Happy Tails Pet Therapy
There is a new volunteer at Winship. He is small in stature but large at heart and caring! His name is Bijou. He comes with his owner, Nancy Sisson, from an organization in Atlanta called Happy Tails. It is a 501©3 organization, started in the 1991, where owners train and join with their pets to provide pet-facilitated therapy and activities and share their pets’ unconditional love with others.
We are grateful to welcome these guests. I spoke with Nancy Sisson, Bijou’s (lucky) owner and the person who supports him in his work. She explained what they do: “It’s about joy. Our visits are quietly joyful. It’s about wonderful, healing moments of connection between people and animals. We never know what those moments will bring, but they can be magical. Our job is to create the possibility for those moments to occur.”
I agree with that, and I think that once you see Happy Tails volunteers in action, you will too. Happy Tails animals work with nursing home patients, rehabilitation patients, those in mental health crisis, hospice patients, cancer patients and many others. Most Happy Tails pets are dogs, but the organization includes cats and bunnies as well.
Before they can be considered for Happy Tails membership, dogs must first take a basic obedience course. Then each dog’s suitability for therapy work is evaluated in a process that includes tests for the American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizenship skills and for temperament. To pass the evaluation process, animals must be calm, well behaved, self-confident, and friendly with both people and other animals. Happy Tails also evaluates the leadership provided by the owner and the teamwork between owner and pet before accepting them as members.
Nancy has been with Happy Tails since 1996, and she tells me that Bijou was a gift from another member, with the goal in mind of training him to become a volunteer for others. They will be joined at Winship by other Happy Tails members and their pets. At Winship we want to be able to share that happiness at our own work, and Happy Tails will help us to provide those magical moments to our patients that we wish to offer them each day.
Please be sure to say hello next time you see our Happy Tails volunteers, both small and tall, animal and their human. They are an integral part of our volunteer department. They are unmistakable with their identifiable t-shirts, bandanas and yes, of course, 4 legs and a happy wag, and a kiss of magic!