Sign In

Virtual Play Date

January 4, 2021

Pam Harris and her certified therapy dog, Molly, loved visiting workplaces, nursing homes and hospitals to interact with people who appreciated the fun and furry social call.

The global pandemic changed all that, but the Edmond retiree and her canine found another way to reach out. With a click of her computer mouse, Harris and Molly are transported virtually into retirement homes and nursing centers to the delight of seniors residing there.

The free virtual visits are part of the Pets Together program created by the Animal Farm Foundation.

For Harris, whose 30-year career was in information technology, the program is one tailor-made for the COVID-19 crisis.

“Effectively, it’s a virtual puppy play date,” she said.

Online visits

Nicole Juchem, Animal Farm Foundation manager, said Pets Together was set up to connect people and their pets to individuals most at risk for social isolation and loneliness. She said it was the idea of a foundation staff member who was disappointed when she couldn’t visit with her grandmother who lived in a nursing home due to concerns about transmission of the coronavirus.

Older adults living in such centers often anticipate visits from family and friends but their vulnerability to COVID-19 meant those visits were abruptly curtailed.

“We started the program in April because we had to pivot like a lot of other organizations had to do,” Juchem said in a phone interview.

It became obvious almost immediately that Pets Together was going to be a hit.

Juchem said more than 700 virtual visits have been made since the program’s inception, with more than 1,000 volunteer pet owners signing up to participate.

“The facilities love it. The residents will talk about it all day,” she said.

Keeping it fun

The program’s leaders and participants have learned how to make each virtual visit meaningful for those who view them. Several volunteer pet owners and their animals are featured during each virtual visit so that people watching may have different interactions.

“We say ‘Hi’ at the beginning and we use the person’s name. We ask them about their day and about any pets they had. We ask what the weather is like and what they are doing,” Juchem said. “We’re just trying to make people’s day.”

She said volunteers are always welcome and because the visits are virtual, their animals don’t have to be certified through any particular program. She said volunteers of all ages are welcome, too.

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