SPCA Pet Therapy

SPCA Pet Therapy

Interview with Kelly Palm, DVM
Using excerpts from Derek Palm’s project report

Three years ago, this was a service project started by a teen-ager. Today, this is a program which gives seniors in assisted living facilities something to look forward to.

Not just the seniors… Volunteers and pet therapists enjoy watching the animals interacting with the people. It is truly a win…win…win.

So how and why did this start?

Derek Palm needed a service project for his senior year. This was three years ago. His mom is the shelter veterinarian for the SPCA of Solano County. She suggested Derek use the idea from UC Davis, where veterinary students take their pets to visit local seniors in assisted living facilities on weekends. So, why not do it here? He tried it, with the blessing and help of Debbie Dillion, Executive Director of the SPCA.

Currently the pet therapy program has four cats, one turtle (yes…a turtle), and 11 dogs that regularly visit Brookdale in Vacaville at both the Ulatis and Leisure town locations.  These animals have been screened by the shelter veterinarian, are fully vaccinated, and must get along with other animals and people. The majority of the Animal Assisted therapists (the pets) have been rescued from shelters or other similar situations.

On holidays like Halloween and Christmas the animals get dressed up during their visit, which is something the residents look forward to. Just how do you dress up a turtle?

Kelly tells me volunteers notice a difference in the residents when the animals walk in the door. The stress level goes down, depressed looks disappear, and the entire place takes on a much happier atmosphere. Clinically, it has been proven residents who interact with animals as therapists require less doctor visits, have lower blood pressure, are calmer, and have a lowered heart rate. Alzheimer’s patients, who might be withdrawn, come out of their shell when they see the animals. All around, a good day for everyone.

Derek learned their visits were often the high light of the residents’ day. He also believes his project makes a difference in the lives of people. Judging by their response, I would agree.

As you might expect, this valuable and positive program is in demand, with more facilities requesting this service. The SPCA is currently accepting new pet and volunteer teams. Volunteers and their pets are screened for specific behavior and to make sure the pet is current on vaccinations. They also need to make sure your pet gets along with others…pets and humans.

Then, the volunteer needs to show proof of either home owner insurance or renter insurance, in case of an incident during the visit.

How do you find out if you and your pet can be a part of this worthwhile and exciting program?

Contact volunteer@solanospca.com for more information. 

Derek says he dedicated his project to Snowball, a resident of the SPCA that passed away December 6, 2013.  He was a pioneer of this project and he will be greatly missed.

Thanks, Derek and Dr. Palm, for starting this amazing program. Let’s keep it going and growing.