All About Pets on Wheels

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The purpose of Pets on Wheels is to enhance the lives of the elderly and/or infirm, now relegated to routine and often uncomfortable lives in special care centers, such as nursing homes and hospitals. There are 1,800 to 2,200 residents in the nursing homes, including about 100 hospice patients and 100 memory patients. Other purposes are to assist in the rehabilitation of special injury or post-surgical patients and to help build self-esteem in young students in special classes, as well as to divert the attention of cancer patients from their worries. Additional purposes are to expand the understanding of the human-animal bond among up to 2,000 second-grade children each year in Scottsdale’s elementary schools as well as spread the word about the human-animal bond around the world.

The objectives are to conduct regular (and meaningful) weekly visits with pets, to as many residents, patients, or students as may benefit from such visits. Such contacts with animals provide both physiological and psychological benefits — conjuring up memories and creating a relaxing and therapeutic effect. A further objective is to teach second-grade children respect for animals and how to avoid injury from them, and to assist others through the Internet.

The program, currently active with 100 volunteer-pet teams, as well as 5 volunteers without pets, is carried out with the cooperation of 14 veterinary clinics and the City of Scottsdale. The City of Scottsdale provides office space at the Granite Reef Senior Center. Major sponsors in recent years include The Sharon D. Lund Foundation, Employee pledge groups through American Express, Liberty Mutual, Bridgeway Health Solutions, City of Phoenix, City of Scottsdale, Salt River Project, our volunteers and the public at large. These contributions are very impactful; however, additional funding is needed each year, to cover the normal operating costs of the program.

All visitation-therapy pets (mostly dogs) are certified healthy by a veterinarian annually. Dogs and cats must be one year of age and spayed or neutered. Prospective volunteers undergo an initial interview. The volunteer-pet teams are then briefed and evaluated at our monthly orientation meetings and when necessary recommendations are made for additional obedience training as needed. When application papers are submitted, a background check is ordered for each applicant. Upon clearance, a trained evaluator is assigned to the volunteer for orientation and final testing at the assigned Care Center. Follow-up training is done through quarterly newsletters and meetings with speakers or films geared to dealing with the elderly, hospice, pet training, pet health and grooming.

Volunteer guidelines help insure the welfare of both residents of the care centers and the animals. Special safety collar-leads are used and liability insurance is maintained. Some volunteers participate in national conferences on the human-animal bond: and speakers are provided for functions, as well as guest lecturing at Arizona State University and other educational institutions.

Pets on Wheels of Scottsdale, founded in July 1990, has completed over 25 years of service. A level of 130 volunteer-pet teams is optimum and constant maintenance is necessary. In addition to the volunteer-pet teams and the volunteers without pets, there are 14 cooperating veterinary clinics providing support with health exams. The Board of Directors is made up of volunteers active in the program. They are each responsible for one or more administrative functions.

A thorough program of volunteer recognition and reward is carried out to recognize community service and minimize attrition. In addition to the many certificates, plaques, and special awards earned, a number of the “volunteer service awards” from President Bush have been received.

Awards FY 2013In 25 years, over 875,000 individual contacts have been made with elderly and/or infirm residents of Scottsdale. This means that 650,000 times, a volunteer has approached a care center resident or patient and said, “Hi! Would you like to meet my dog?” [or other pet]. An average of 16 such contacts are made, lasting from 2 minutes to 2 hours, during each volunteer-pet team visit. Except for a few residents or patients who are afraid of, or who are not allowed to have contact with, the animals, the residents are delighted with the visits. Frequent reactions are: “Thank you so much for bringing your dog,” “Please come again soon,” or “Let me tell you about the dogs I used to have.” Some, who have not spoken, speak; one came out of her room for the first time; another was helped out of a coma with dog kisses and a “woof” in the ear.

The Children’s Pet Safety program, begun in 1997, is resulting in several hundred additional contacts each month. During each school year, volunteer-pet teams present pet safety talks to 86 second-grade students. The purpose is to teach respect for animals and ways to avoid bites and scratches from dogs and cats. Lives may be saved in the future. More information may be found at Ancillary Projects on the menu. 

The Life Skills programs were started in 2004 with visits to the developmentally challenged youth classes at Chaparral High School. With the success of that ongoing program, in 2008 we began visits at four other schools offering this program. And in 2009, visits began at Cortney’s Place; a special school is for Life Skills students over the age of 21.