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Volunteering with Your Pet: Animal-Assisted Therapy

Pet Partners Animal-Assisted Therapy and Education

Volunteering feels good, and there is a lot of science that explains why. For animal lovers, there are special rewards associated with volunteering with our own pets as a dynamic team. Partnering with our pets to help our fellow humans enhances our social circles, connects us meaningfully to others, enriches our pets’ lives, deepens our bonds with our pets, and can even give us a sense of purpose.

Pet Partners is a nonprofit specializing in animal-assisted therapies and education. They are experts in harnessing the power of the human-animal bond to improve human health, encourage healing, and share the joy animals bring to all of us. Their volunteer teams–which consist of humans and nine species of animals, including horses, dogs, cats, birds, and pigs–visit and uplift patients in recovery, people with intellectual disabilities, seniors living with Alzheimer’s, students, veterans with PTSD, people who have experienced crisis events, and those approaching end of life.  Find out if you and your pet are good candidates for becoming a volunteer animal-assisted therapy team here.

In the following article, Dr. Taylor Chastain Griffin, PhD and National Director, AAI Advancement, Pet Partners, illuminates the many benefits that volunteering with our pets can have on everyone involved. Aapp thanks her for her time and applauds her commitment to making the world a kinder, more beautiful place for animals and the people who love them!

The Benefits of Volunteering with Your Pet

There is no doubt that time is one of the most valuable commodities that we have–especially in this day and age in which it seems that the world is spinning faster than ever before. Yet even with the culture of hustle that surrounds us, millions of people around the globe still manage to give their time to their communities through acts of volunteerism.* Often tied to our personal sense of meaning or to a cause that we can deeply identify with, volunteering allows us to act in a way that aligns with our values and desires for the community at a level larger than ourselves.* To volunteer is commendable for many reasons. Not only does volunteering require time and energy, but it also often requires our resources and careful planning on behalf of the person who is giving back.* When we volunteer, we can connect with the community around us in a unique way–allowing us the opportunity to benefit a person who might otherwise be a stranger.*

While volunteering takes effort, there are many benefits associated with this kind of engagement. Humans are highly social beings, and volunteerism is often reported to be a meaningful avenue by which we find fulfilling personal connection and are able to meet like-minded people.* Volunteerism may also provide a safe space for a person to develop new skills while operating within a context that cultivates the appreciation of broader, new perspectives that we would otherwise be unable to obtain.* Research suggests that volunteering is good for a person on multiple levels–positively impacting physical health, encouraging social skills that result in stronger interpersonal relationships, helping to achieve a sense of purpose, and even potentially helping a person in his or her career.*

Opportunities and Motivations for Volunteering with Pets

Within the larger world of volunteerism, there are pockets of engagement activities available to a person to meet their specific desires, skills, and hopes for the community. One of the areas in which volunteerism is most critical relates to animal care, where volunteers are commonly called upon as the primary workforce to help raise awareness, rescue animals, and even share the love of animals through activities such as animal assisted interventions (AAI). Over the last several decades, volunteering with animals has greatly increased–a phenomenon that is likely associated with shifts in cultural norms related to how we interact with animals.*

Volunteers who give their time working for these kinds of organizations tend to identify with animals at a deep level.*They are fueled by personal motivation which is essential to realize in encouraging the growth of the programs that depend on volunteers to meet these needs.* Volunteers who partner with therapy animals report many different motivating factors that inspire their work. They are proud of their pets and enjoy operating together as a team.* These activities are not only inspired by a person’s desire to answer a calling upon their lives, but volunteers in this realm also report being motivated by their connection with their animal.*

A Sense of Responsibility & Reward

Many AAI volunteers act according to a sense of responsibility they feel to enrich the lives of their animals and find that this sort of partnership benefits their relationship with their pet.* It is a rewarding experience for these volunteers to watch the ways in which their animals have positive interactions with others. bolstering this type of volunteerism to become an important leisure activity for many of the people who engage in it.*

Volunteering as an Essential Need for Your Community

While a love for animals certainly plays a role in inspiring people to volunteer at this intersection, there is more at play when it comes to setting the stage for people who give back in this manner. Those who help in the animal world have been found to be quick to respond to other needs within their communities, suggesting that this sense of personal enrichment correlates with value systems that orient a person towards a willingness to assist whenever a need is presented to them.*

All in all, volunteerism is an essential activity that supports individuals, communities, and often even animals who are served within a volunteer’s call to action. Though the work is sometimes hard, the calling is always noble and the benefits are tangible for all who are involved within the scope of these services.

1. Abell, J. (2013). Volunteering to help conserve endangered species: An identity approach to human–animal relationships. Journal of community & applied social psychology, 23(2), 157-170.

2.Burns, D. J., Reid, J., Toncar, M., Anderson, C., & Wells, C. (2008). The effect of gender on the motivation of members of generation Y college students to volunteer. Journal of Nonprofit & Public Sector Marketing, 19(1), 99-118. doi:10.1300/J054v19n01_05.

3.Cerri, J., Procaccio, E. L., Ferretti, M., & Mori, E. (2020). Modernization-induced socio-economic changes and their effect over the spatial distribution of recreational hunting and volunteering with animals. Human Dimensions of Wildlife, 1-10.
4.Clary, E. G., & Snyder, M. (1999). The motivations to volunteer: Theoretical and practical considerations. Current directions in psychological science, 8(5), 156- 159. doi; 10.1111/1467-8721.0003.

5.Collins, K. V. (2014). Animal-Assisted Therapy: Motives and Rewards. Honors Theses and Capstones. 175.

6. Finkelstein, M. A. (2008). Predictors of volunteer time: The changing contributions of motive fulfillment and role identity. Social Behavior and Personality: An International Journal, 36(10), 1353-1363.

7. Fisher, G. M. (2020). Motivators that Influence Canine Handlers to Volunteer in Animal Assisted Activities.

8. Hicks, J. R., & Kramer, M. (2020). Therapy Dog Ownership as Serious Leisure for Members of a Therapy Dog Volunteer Group. People and Animals: The International Journal of Research and Practice, 3(1), 5.

9.Mowen, J. C., & Sujan, H. (2005). Volunteer behavior: A hierarchical model approach for investigating its trait and functional motive antecedents. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 15(2), 170-182.

10.Samdahl, D. M. (2015). ‘It’s [Not] All about the Dogs’: Volunteers and Pet Rescue. In Domestic Animals and Leisure (pp. 89-108). Palgrave Macmillan, London.

Dr. Taylor Chastain Griffin is the National Director of Animal-Assisted Interventions (AAI) Advancement at Pet Partners. In this role, she oversees the organization’s empirical research collaborations and works with other field leaders to motivate standardization and professionalization of the intervention. Taylor has a background as a dog trainer, therapy dog handler, and mental health counselor. She holds a doctorate in research psychology with a focus on the human-animal bond.

Published On: May 9, 2021|Categories: News and Stories|

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The American Association of Pet Parents (AAPP) is a national nonprofit dedicated to keeping pets happy, healthy and in their loving homes – and out of animal shelters.