By Terry Rogers
On Saturday, July 18, Sunnybrae Mansion will be the site of an introductory event for PAWS for People, an organization that connects pet owners with people who could benefit from therapeutic visits. PAWS stands for Pet-Assisted Visitation Volunteer Services and is a non-profit organization that Karen McColley, co-owner of the mansion, says she learned about initially through her doctorate studies.
“I was finishing up my educational doctorate and we were taken on a field trip to the Delaware Hospital for the Chronically Ill,” Ms. McColley said. “We had two options to choose from while we were there and, because I love animals, I chose the one with dogs. We watched as PAWS for People worked with two volunteers, teaching them how to use their dogs in a therapeutic manner. One of the dogs was a big, giant Great Dane that you could almost put a saddle on while the other was a little tiny puff ball of a dog. You couldn’t help but laugh at their differences as they stood next to each other but these dogs and their owners were celebrities at the hospital. It was amazing to see.”
According to the PAWS for People website, the organization is different than other pet therapy services as they place an emphasis on providing individual therapeutic experiences for each person they visit. The group uses dogs and cats in hospitals and skilled care facilities as well as chemical dependency centers, schools and other places where people can benefit from the therapeutic properties of animals.
“Right now, the group is mainly in New Castle County, but they want to expand south,” Ms. McColley said. “After my visit while in school, I ran into the group four different times. The fourth time, I was shopping at the mall with my youngest daughter, Katie, who was about to graduate from the University of Delaware. We ran into the same ladies I saw at the hospital and they explained they hoped to bring the program to Milford. I didn’t need to be hit on the head to know that something was pushing me to help these people, so we planned the event at the mansion.”
Ms. McColley said that dogs and their owners are welcome at the mansion for the event. Admission is free, although they are accepting donations for PAWS for People. Other animal-focused businesses including the Kent County SPCA, Fur-Baby Boutique, Daycare & Spa, BeaverDam Pet Food and Concord Pets will be on hand to provide information to those in attendance. Those who come out for the event will enjoy light refreshments and be able to talk to PAWS for People about what they do.
“One of the best things about this organization is these are not specially trained dogs,” Ms. McColley said. “These are pet owners with dogs that are well-behaved and calm who are then provided specific training on how to use them in a therapeutic manner.” PAWS for People will explain what is involved in getting an animal trained for their program and determine whether the animal is suitable for their needs. All dogs must be on a leash and under the control of the owner at the event.
In addition to providing information about PAWs for People, Ms. McColley said that her middle child, Mary, who is a certified Zumba instructor, will be offering a “PAWathon,” a two-hour Zumba class with a pet theme, from 9 until 11 AM. There is a $10 donation per person requested for anyone who wishes to participate in the PAWathon.
“We just want people to come out, stroll the lawns of the mansion and enjoy the day,” Ms. McColley said. “Hopefully, we can raise a little money for the organization as well as get some information out about how people and their pets can volunteer for this wonderful organization.”