Spring recruitment event for Heeling Friends animal therapy organization next week | SteamboatToday.com

Spring recruitment event for Heeling Friends animal therapy organization next week

Kateau rests his head on the lap of Strawberry Park Elementary second-grader Hailey Kessler during a READ session at the school in November. Therapy animals like Kateau visit students

Correction: The time commitment expected of Heeling Friends teams has been corrected in this story.

Animal-assisted therapy organization Heeling Friends will hold its spring recruit next week, and the group is seeking new animal-owner therapy teams to serve locally.

Founded in 1998, teams from the organization visit local hospitals, schools and other facilities, spending time with medical patients, students learning to read and other community members.

An informational meeting will take place from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 24, followed by two evening training sessions from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Feb. 25 and 26. The meetings will be held at Strawberry Park Elementary School, 39620 Amethyst St.

Teams will learn the skills needed for the animals to pass Heeling Friends evaluations taking place later in the spring.

“Both dog and handler need to be friendly and like people,” said Heeling Friends Director Jim Stimson. “Dogs need to have fairly good leash skills and be able to ‘stay.’”

Dogs should have basic obedience skills and good behavior, following standards similar to the American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen Test.

A time commitment of at least four to six hours per month is expected for each team.

Stimson said so far he only knows of dog-human teams planning to participate in the training, but he said various animals are welcome. Cats and a miniature horse have been part of therapy teams previously.

Stimson said when he joined the program eight years ago, his 5-year-old Golden Retriever had never been on a leash, but after weeks of training with the animal, it was able to pass its evaluation.

His newest dog Martha, another Golden Retriever, will be participating in the upcoming training.

Stimson said occasional, special visits with patients or children can be inspiring and well worth the time invested in the program.

“Once in a while, you have these amazing visits,” he said. “It’s almost a life-changing experience, when you and your dog are working as a team.”

A handful of dogs died last year, but there are still about 30 active Heeling Friends teams, Stimson said.

There’s a particular need for more teams to participate in the READ program, where teams visit local schools so students struggling with reading can read aloud to the animals.

For more information about Heeling Friends and the upcoming recruitment event, visit http://www.heelingfriends.org, contact Stimson at 970-291-9732 or email info@heelingfriends.org.

To reach Teresa Ristow, call 970-871-4206, email tristow@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @TeresaRistow

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