Sign In

Face Time With Pets

December 9, 2020

Christie Purks of Athens is finding a way to serve those socially isolated and lonely because of COVID-19. Without leaving the comforts of home, Purks and her 9-year-old mixed-breed dog, Cali, a Maltipoo, are putting smiles on the faces of seniors across the country.

Purks is one of 1,000 volunteers for Pets Together, a free virtual pet visit program offered to seniors in metro Atlanta and nationwide who are living in group settings, such as nursing homes and assisted living communities.

Video chats also are available to doctors, nurses, and other health professionals on the front lines fighting the coronavirus.

Since pets can’t make live visits right now, these volunteers are filling the gap. Using video chat services, like Zoom, volunteers and their pets get on a 30-minute call and participate in friendly interaction.

During the pandemic, Purks works from home as the University of Georgia assistant athletic director of event management. She signed up as a pet volunteer in April, after hearing about the program and the need for help. The chat visits don’t require much time, and she enjoys meeting the other volunteers, and interacting with the residents.

“I like seeing their faces light up,” Purks said. “A lot of them will talk about their animals — pets they’ve had in the past, or if there’s one at the facility.”

Pets Together aims to bring joy and comfort to those feeling socially isolated and lonely. It is a program of Animal Farm Foundation, a nonprofit in upstate New York offering various services to bring dogs and people together.

During the onset of the pandemic, Pets Together was launched in one Maryland nursing home. The response was so overwhelming the organization decided to take it national.

“Pets bring us comfort during times of distress, but not everyone is in a position to have one,” said Stacey Coleman, Executive Director of Animal Farm Foundation.

“One of the many effects of the COVID-19 pandemic is social isolation and loneliness, which were already highly prevalent before the crisis. We designed Pets Together to adapt to these unprecedented circumstances by tapping into the power of pets to spread joy and bring people together,” she said.

Purks and Cali have connected with seniors in multiple states, including Florida, Pennsylvania, Kansas, and Arizona. In the metro area, Rosemont at Stone Mountain, a nursing home and rehabilitation facility, has offered the program.

“We have received so many inspiring responses from the facilities and the volunteers. It is amazing to see what a positive impact this program is making with those that are isolated and the volunteers,” spokeswoman Judy Klym said.

While there are numerous dogs and cats, pet volunteers bring farm animals and exotics, too. There are horses, goats, cows, chickens and other birds, snakes, and bearded dragons.

More volunteers are needed, especially those with unique pets, Klym said. Pets do not have to be certified therapy animals.

“As the pandemic continues to grow, we have more facilities sign up. We have multiple sessions every day and need all the help that we can get,” she said.

The commitment is minimal. Each virtual visit is 30 minutes, and volunteers can sign up once a week or multiple times if they choose. Facilities can also sign up for multiple visits.

The Pets Together program gives Purks a way to “give back” during the pandemic.

Cali is not a therapy dog, and doesn’t do animal tricks or wear funny hats, like a lot of the other pets. But she’s tiny, and that’s a curiosity. Often, viewers will ask how much she weighs (7 pounds, says Purks).

“Every once in a while, Cali is just sacked out while it’s going on. You never know what you’re going to get,” Purks said.

“There are a lot of people going through challenging times, and if Cali and I can be of service during this, then that does us good, too,” she added.

Using live video-conferencing platforms (Zoom, Skype, Google Hangouts), the Animal Farm Foundation team will schedule real-time visits where people can watch the animals and participate in friendly conversations with those who care for them.

The Pets Together model greatly expands access to pet visits that have traditionally been reserved for face-to-face interactions for people living in group settings (such as nursing homes and hospitals)

Register Your Dog

  • Most Recent News

    Former Victoria man’s diabetic alert dog helps him get back to life

    When Luke Hengen’s diabetes worsened in his early twenties, it stripped him of the outdoor activities where the country kid felt at home. Countless wilderness adventures and years of hard-fought football games took a toll on his body, to the point where he could no longer sense when his blood sugar was too high or […]

    Read more

    Students Get Therapy Dog

    When middle school students return to class on Jan. 11, they’ll find a new face at the door: Daisy. Daisy is a therapy dog and the personal pet of Rob Kreger, principal of the Rock L. Butler Middle School. The five-year-old golden retriever is not a school pet or mascot, but rather a working dog […]

    Read more

    Therapy Dogtor

    Last March, Caroline Benzel, a third-year medical student, began to notice the stress and discomfort her nurse friends were feeling from the pressures of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. “[Personal protective equipment] can be really rough on the skin,” Benzel, 31, tells PEOPLE. Benzel and her 3-year-old Rottweiler, Loki (who’s also a therapy dog) hatched a […]

    Read more

    Therapy Dog Pups

    When Stanley the miniature fox terrier’s owner passed away, the little dog started a ‘paw-some’ new role – bringing puppy love to some of the Gold Coast’s oldest residents. After Carinity Cedarbrook Diversional Therapist Julianne Staff adopted Stanley, he began visiting the aged care community at Mudgeeraba as a therapy dog. Therapy dogs help to […]

    Read more

    Puppy Cams

    A nonprofit is providing an unusual form of therapy for those on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic – puppy cams! “You spend five minutes with a puppy and try not to smile,” said registered nurse Robin Lingg Lagrone. Lingg Lagrone says watching little furballs wag their tails and prance on their paws helps […]

    Read more

    Pet Committee

    When Moore County’s school doors were abruptly closed earlier in 2020, two- and four-legged volunteers from the Moore County Citizens’ Pet Responsibility Committee (PRC) were in their 12th year of presenting a six-session Pet Responsibility Education Program for fourth-graders. The PRC quickly shifted gears and placed its program materials online as part of a home […]

    Read more