Pandemic Emphasizes Demand for Pet Therapy

Pandemic Emphasizes Demand for Pet Therapy

LOUISVILLE, Ky. Since the pandemic, the need for pet therapy in educational settings and public settings has increased, according to Louisville Wonderful Animals Giving Support (WAGS) Pet Therapy of Kentucky.


What you need to know

  • Wonderful Animals Giving Support (WAGS) Pet Therapy of Kentucky was founded in 1998
  • The founders of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts are Sharon Gretzinger and Linda Loone
  • The goal of the non-profit organization is to use pet therapy to promote health, independence and quality of life
  • Dogs, cats, rabbits and bird owners can train to be a WAGS ambassador

Provide support for adorable animals, also known as WAGS Pet Therapy of Kentucky Inc. He tries to double the teams of ambassadors. WAGS was founded in 1998 to bring pet therapy closer to people who live in Kentucky. The pandemic has highlighted how important the work of volunteer teams is. Owners of dogs, cats, rabbits, and birds can volunteer their time with the nonprofit organization and become a WAGS ambassador team that travels across the state, using pet therapy to promote health, independence, and quality of life.

Mickey Thomas smiles as children read books with her dog Leo. (Teef News 1 / Diamond Palmer)

You can find these pets in schools, hospitals, rehab centers and even Muhammad Ali Airport in Louisville with their handlers. Mickey Thomas is a board member at WAGS, and is one of nearly 60 team ambassadors with the nonprofit she works with Leo. She has volunteered her time for the past three years and says the pandemic has highlighted the need to treat pets. She would like to see teams of WAGS ambassadors nearly double to help with the curve of great need in the Commonwealth.

“Having new ambassador teams is really important to us because we have a lot of facilities on the waiting list calling us and asking ‘Have you found a team for us yet,’” Thomas said.

Dwight D. Eisenhower Elementary School student reading Leo while Brian Folkerson flirts with Nala. (Teef News 1 / Diamond Palmer)

The kids at Dwight D. Eisenhower Elementary School in Louisville are no strangers to dogs. They have had WAGS in their school since last year through the recommendation of the School’s Family Resources Coordinator according to Principal Conni Jo Strange.

Thomas says the school is only one of 15 Jefferson Public Schools (JCPS) to benefit from animal therapy.

Last year, in 2021, it was National Library of Medicine A study released a finding that therapy dogs reduce stress, increase positive emotions, enhance participation in learning, and reduce task avoidance and aggression in the classroom.

Even though dogs can’t talk, the kids in the class definitely love reading to them. Thomas says that the best dogs in the program are those with a calm temperament. Which is exactly what she noticed in her neighbor’s dog, Nala.

“I’ve seen Nala since she was a puppy and saw how friendly she was, as well as her temper. I thought she would make a wonderful therapy dog. ‘She was ready for testing in about a year and a half, or about two years old,'” Thomas said.

Nala licks the face of students at Dwight D. Eisenhower Elementary School. (Teef News 1 / Diamond Palmer)

Bryan Fulkerson, a Nala handler, became a WAGS team ambassador after Thomas told him how much impact people who volunteer with their dogs can have on others who depend on pet therapy. He took the opportunity when he retired and hasn’t looked back since. He has served with WAGS for just over a year, and his wife is also a board member of the nonprofit organization alongside Thomas.

“I recently retired, so I was looking for something to take some of my time and the timing was perfect,” Folkerson said.

Folkerson believes there is no better way to put a smile on a child’s face. Even if that means kids don’t remember anyone but the dog’s name.

Pet owners should click here For more information on how to become a WAGS volunteer or team ambassador. The owners will train, then the owner and the pet will be tested in various places before becoming a team ambassador. People looking to donate to the nonprofit should click here.

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