Japanese visitors learn of U.S. pet program

The handlers and animals being judged were American, the evaluators Japanese. At the end, everyone learned something.

Bellevue-based Delta Society trains service, therapy animals

The handlers and animals being judged were American, the evaluators Japanese. At the end, everyone learned something.

The Bellevue-based Delta Society, a nonprofit organization that focuses on improving human health through service and therapy animals, recently hosted a group of visiting Japanese students to learn more about the society’s Pet Partners program.

The students, enrolled in an animal therapy coordinator program at a three-year vocational school, traveled from Niigata, Japan for a three-day course on the human-animal bond. The program is one in which volunteers take their pets to visit people in hospitals, senior centers, AIDS and hospice care, schools, libraries and many other places.

Research has shown that interaction between animals and people improves health by lowering blood pressure, reducing stress and anxiety levels and releasing endorphins in those that are depressed or lonely.

As part of their schooling in Japan, students travel to the United States to learn more about the research behind pet therapy and its many benefits.

Each year the visiting group of students participates in study sessions, mock evaluations and on-site field trips to local hospitals.

According to Ann Howie, a volunteer who led the course, the students spent one full day learning the administrative aspects of managing a visiting animal group and another day learning the process involved in evaluating Pet Partner teamsfor appropriateness in doing this kind of work.

Prior to their visit, the students already have had a full year of studying the Pet Partner’s manual and following the visit, will have another full year of studying the evaluation manual.

“These kids go through everything. They do dog training, but also get lectures on the humane-law and welfare-law, animal experimentation and agricultural issues,” Keiko Yamazaki, a Delta Society instructor in Japan, said.

To help the students fully understand the Pet Partner process, they participated in a hands-on mock evaluation.

Ann Howie, a volunteer who joined the Delta Society staff in 1988 and now volunteers at the organization, walked the students through a demonstration of how someone would run through an real-life evaluation.

“The students will see how the animals are handled and what points are evaluated,” Yamazaki explained. “…and if they (volunteering staff members and their pets) fail, the students will learn why they failed. It’s a really good learning tool.”

According to Yamazaki, the Delta Society presence has always been in Japan but, like in the United States, Delta is not as widespread.

JoAnn Turnbull, of the Delta Society, warns against animal visitation without prior training and evaluation.

“It’s difficult to anticipate how an animal is going to react once inside a hospital room. You may have the sweetest dog, but they may not be cut out for therapeutic work and same goes for the handler,” she said.

Since the Pet Partner effort is a team effort, the Delta Society looks at both the owner and the pet separately and as a pair, Turnbull said.

A certified Pet Partner team still has limitations and requirements to ensure a positive outcome, Turnbull explained. One stipulation is that the handler always must hold one end of the leash and another is short visits.

“We insist that the visitations are no longer then two hours at a time,” Turnbull said. “Animals absorb more than you might think and they can sense a stressful situation or tension in a hospital room.”

The Pet Partner program, which was established in 1990, is the only national registry that requires volunteer training and screening of animal or handler teams.

“I teach a Pet Partners program in Japan once a year, but I can train only 40 people in a lecture room at one time,” Yamazaki added. “A lot of people find out about it later. Of course Delta doesn’t certify them in Japan because of insurance policies, but the program is available and we have all the Delta manuals translated into Japanese.”

There are more than 10,000 Pet Partners teams, which operate in all 50 states and 11 other countries, helping more than 1,000,000 people each year.

To find out more information on the Delta Society visit www.deltasociety.org.

Lindsay Larin can be reached at llarin@reporternewspapers.com or 425-453-4602.

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