Recently we took a walk around Franklin’s Pinkerton Park with Carolyn Collins, a handler with Music City Pet Partners, and her therapy dog, Willow.
Music City Pet Partners (MCPP) has 110 members who handle around 120 therapy animals, mostly dogs but also including rabbits and a mini horse named “Dream.” Handlers accompany the animals to schools and colleges to help students relieve stress; they bring smiles to the faces of nursing home residents, hospital patients and those in mental health centers. “Some of our handlers
bring dogs to comfort children who must testify about family members in the juvenile court system,” says Carolyn. “The kids are stressed and it helps them to love and pet the dogs.”
Studies show that for most people, animal-assisted therapy, otherwise known as pet therapy, prompts the body to release serotonin, prolactin and oxytocin. These hormones generate a relaxation and stress-reducing response that can lower symptoms of depression and sadness, anxiety and fear.
The organization needs more volunteers. “We try to cover as much ground as we can but we’re currently getting more requests than we can fill,” Carolyn explains. “We want to be able to say yes to everyone.”
She became a handler after her Thompson’s Station neighbor told her about a Vietnam veteran living in a nearby nursing home. He and his wife had been in a car accident and his wife was killed. The veteran had a traumatic brain injury. He lost his home, his dogs, everything. He had a feeding tube and wouldn’t get out of bed. “People tried everything to help this man,” says Carolyn, “and I wanted to do something too.”
She had a Shutzhund German Shepherd Dog named Bailey with a temperament sought-after for rescue and police work. “I started taking Bailey to the nursing home every week to visit this veteran and we noticed changes in his demeanor. After seven weeks, he was no longer using a feeding tube and was leaving his room. Once I saw how an animal’s presence can transform a life, I knew this was something I needed to seek out.”
If you have or know of an animal who would make a great therapy pet, contact MCCP through their website at MusicCityPetPartners.org and learn how to volunteer. “As a handler, my mental and physical health is improved just as much as the people we’re visiting. It’s a great joy to see a dog brighten up a person’s face,” says Carolyn.