We are very excited about our new Hearts of Gold therapy program which rolled out in January 2019 and continues to grow as an extension of community service that GRRMF offers. GRRMF is not only about rescuing and re-homing goldens – our organization is also about providing therapeutic visitation to those in need. Our website and Facebook page have been exploding with photos and information about the program and the wonderful rescues who are giving back to their communities by providing comfort, lifting spirits and making a PAWsitive impact on someone’s life during a therapy visit.
GRRMF has partnered with Project PUP in our Mid-Florida area of coverage to establish a special team of handlers and dogs to represent GRRMF at community events and respond to requests for therapy visits. Since our Hearts of Gold team comes under Project PUP’s insurance umbrella, to participate as a member of the therapy team, all dog/handler teams must obtain a Project PUP certification by attending a full screening evaluation. Please visit their website at Projectpup.net for information about their mission, requirements and evaluation schedule dates. Upon certification, Project PUP will issue a doggie badge for the dog/handler team and GRRMF will provide a handler shirt and dog vest with our Hearts of Gold logo so our teams are easily identified at GRRMF sponsored facility visits and events.
On January 12, 2019, our first seven Hearts of Gold GRRMF gentle paws ambassadors passed their screening evaluation and received their Project PUP certification as a therapy dog! Since then, nine more dog/handler teams have certified and are actively doing Hearts of Gold therapy visits. We also have five potential dog/handler teams that passed their GRRMF pre-screening and are schedule to test with Project PUP in January 2020. As our membership increases, so does the number of requests for therapy visits from facilities and college campuses.
Animal therapy is becoming widely accepted and the benefits others receive from a therapy visit are priceless. Our special pups have so much compassion to give to others and they totally enjoy the interaction with each person or child. As a handler tagging along on the other end of the leash, you will experience the pure joy that happens when your pup enters a room. Not all dogs are born with the exceptional temperament required to be a certified therapy dog.
These special canines must have a stable disposition and easy-going, friendly personalities. It can be hard work and the dog needs to be good at it and enjoy doing it. A good potential therapy dog should adore people and want nothing more than to connect with them, possess a physical calm (no barking, pawing, or jumping), be non-reactive to loud noises, and non-aggressive to other dogs and pets. Finding the type of therapy work that fits your dog’s personality is important as they need to be comfortable and relaxed while performing the task so they can connect with those they are interacting with appropriately. Some canines are very comfortable with children while others love the elderly, some are social greeters who readily look for petting while others calmly enjoy listening to a story. Before you consider doing therapy work with your dog, you should ask yourself if your dog has the qualities required to perform as a therapy dog. We have found that canines who have attended an obedience class and received their Canine Good Citizen (CGC) certification are better prepared to do therapy work. It also tests your ability to handle your dog in a safe and effective manner.
If you are considering doing therapy work, this is the perfect opportunity to see if you and your canine have the qualities for becoming a dog/handler therapy team. Currently, GRRMF is holding pre-screening events every other month on the west coast at Pinellas Park Senior Center and on the east coast at Fountains of Melbourne to help you and your dog prepare for the Project PUP final assessment. At these events, you will receive helpful tips and one-on-one feedback so you can practice your skills at the different testing stations and arrive at your Project PUP evaluation session full of confidence. Review the pre-screening sheet so you can better understand the temperament and canine good manners that we are looking for so you can judge when your dog is ready to expand their horizons and spread golden joy to others. We work on helping your dog feel comfortable around medical equipment and practice the skills required at each testing station. Dates can be found on our Facebook page and our website. The cost to participate in a pre-screening event is $20 payable to GRRMF. Those interested in attending can contact coordinator Ginger at GRRMFTherapypups@grrmf.org for more information.
GRRMF alums and GRRMF volunteers with dogs already certified by Project PUP are encouraged to join our Hearts of Gold therapy teams and have your information added to our roster so we can contact you when a therapy visit is requested. Use this link to get your team information to our Handler/Dog Coordinator. Although most of our dogs will be GRRMF alums, your dog does not have to be a golden or golden blend to participate as we also need small dogs for special facilities. However, the handler must be a GRRMF volunteer or adopter to be eligible to join the GRRMF Hearts of Gold therapy team. Family dogs who have earned their CGC and have the calm personality to do therapy work are welcome to be evaluated after filling out a Volunteer form.
Word is getting around mid-Florida about our newly formed Hearts of Gold program and we have facilities and college campuses contacting us weekly to request visits from our therapy teams. Each time a therapy request is received, all dog/handler teams are notified via email. Also, an updated facility list is shared with all our certified teams so weekly, or monthly, therapy visits can be scheduled according to your personal calendar. Plus, you and your fur companion are surrounded by people who share the same passion – spreading joy and comfort to those less fortunate.
As the program grows, so does the need for volunteers to work behind the scenes in researching additional locations to hold pre-screening events, performing administrative duties, facility and dog/handler team management, and role-playing at the different mock testing stations at our pre-screening events. If you are interested in raising your paws to help us with these important start-up tasks and have a GRRMF volunteer application on file, please send us a note to GRRMFtherapypups@grrmf.org and a coordinator will be in touch with you when it is received. Not a GRRMF volunteer – click here to complete an application and list your areas of interest.