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Delta Society to host animal-assisted therapy workshop

ALBANY -- For 13 years, pet therapy volunteer teams have been a welcome presence in the city's health care community.

Now, those involved with the effort are attempting to expand their ranks.

Area Delta Society members are hosting a training workshop Saturday and Sunday for people interested in becoming involved with animal-assisted therapy.

"We've been very dedicated in getting pet partner teams," said Marty Harris, licensed instructor and team evaluator for Delta Society. "It's been a wonderful experience. We've got some wonderful people out there doing this."

The workshop sessions will be held from 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. at Phoebe Northwest. Attendance is required on both days to receive a certificate. There is a one-hour allotted for lunch during the day. A $50 registration fee, which includes a training manual and additional course materials, is required of participants.

"I expect people to learn how to facilitate, but to also share stories," Harris said. "People will have an understanding on how to deal with this."

The sessions are for handlers only, which may include health care professionals and members of the general public.

"It's for people who have pets who love people and for health care professionals that want to incorporate it," Harris said. "We have had a good response in the community."

Scientific research has shown that interactions with animals can reduce a person's blood pressure, lower anxiety and stress levels, and stimulate the release of endorphins. The program is being integrated into health care teams alongside doctors, nurses and physical and occupational therapists. There are active programs in 3,000 facilities nationwide, including hospitals, schools, hospice care, rehabilitation centers, assisted living communities, correctional centers and others.

Key patient populations include, but are not limited to, Alzheimer's disease, autism, cerebral palsy, children learning to read and patients with life-threatening illnesses.

"A lot of times, for folks in nursing homes, it can help stimulate memories," Harris said. "(Also), autistic kids will talk to the dogs."

There are three core programs within the Delta Society including "Pet Partners," who are responsible for handling animals involved with therapy. A national service dog referral center and a human-animal bond resource center also take part in the overall function of the society. The nonprofit organization, dedicated to improving health through service and therapy animals, was founded in 1977 by a medical doctor and a veterinarian. The society now has programs in practice daily throughout the United States.

"It's about animal-assisted therapy and helping people in the community," Harris said.

Phoebe Northwest is located at 2336 Dawson Road. For more information or to register, call (229) 883-9411. The deadline to reserve a spot is Friday.