Napan Kristy Pruett has a lot going on in her life. She works full-time as a Napa Police Department Dispatcher. She owns and shows “a lot” of horses, including 20 miniature horses. She has 3 dogs, and also spends time with her human family members. Included in her busy life were trips to Sacramento to volunteer with one of her miniature horses, Banner, through a visiting pet program sponsored by Sacramento Humane Society.
Recently, Kristy found Loving Animals Providing Smiles (LAPS), a Napa-based animal-assisted therapy organization. “LAPS welcomes all types of domesticated pets and their handlers,” says LAPS president, Lisa McWilliams. “We have developed an extensive, 6-week Team Handling Skills Class to prepare volunteers for animal-assisted therapy work with children, teens and seniors. We usually have volunteers bringing dogs or cats into therapy work, and there was a bit of a learning curve for us to adapt our lesson plans for the miniature horses. Fortunately, we have a number of current members who already had brought their dogs into therapy work, and who also have years of experience handling horses, so they knew the skills needed to be successful.”
Animal-assisted therapy has been an organized volunteer activity for close to 50 years. Starting as a grass-roots movement with a few dedicated volunteers and their well-trained pets, animal-assisted therapy (AAT) has expanded to dozens of countries. In the US, Pet Partners (formerly known as Delta Society) has developed the premier standard for screening and evaluating volunteer/pet teams. Pet Partners registers teams with dogs, cats, rabbits, birds, horses, llamas, donkeys, and other domesticated pets. While LAPS originally patterned their practices on the Pet Partners model, today’s LAPS teams undergo even more extensive training and a more stringent evaluation process.