By Michelle Colesanti
“Love is a Four-Legged Word” takes on special meaning for those volunteering with Paws for Friendship, and for the recipients of the time spent with those volunteer’s furry (and not-so furry) friends.
Over four years ago, Kelley Weaver and her husband were approached at a greyhound event to join Paws for Friendship. Since greyhounds are a laid back breed of dog and the perfect size to interact with those in wheelchairs, it was suggested that her pets would be a perfect fit.
Weaver is now the South County Coordinator for Paws for Friendship, which is a non-profit 501(c)(3) group that has been in business for over 21 years. Volunteers and their pets visit nursing homes, assisted living facilities, hospitals, hospice centers, and schools for pet therapy. Any type of pet can be considered as a pet therapy representative. Paws for Pets currently has ferrets, turtles, cats, dogs, birds, prairie dogs, and even goats as members. Therapy animals don’t need to have special training to join, but they do need to exhibit a gentle temperament, not to react to other animals or medical equipment. They should be good listeners to their handlers and enjoy attention.
“We visit many people in a variety of settings throughout the U.S. and abroad, free of charge,” said Weaver.
In Southern Hillsborough County, the program has recently been expanded to include a new Paws to Read program at the SouthShore Regional Library. More volunteers are sought to expand the program into the local elementary schools. This program encourages children to read to the animals, as some youngsters are more comfortable doing this than reading to adults. This program has helped children improve their reading scores.
The organization’s Second Annual Poker Run will be held on Saturday, October 11 at The Quaker Steak and Lube Restaurant, located at 10400 49th St. N. in Clearwater, with registration beginning at 9 a.m. and kickstands up at 10:30 a.m. There will be vendors and pet rescues, live music and more. For more information, visit .pawsforfriendship inc.org. Individuals interested in volunteering with a pet, or if any teachers or schools are interested in learning more about Paws to Read, e-mail kelleym firstname.lastname@example.org.