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Questions and Answers On Furry Friends Pet Assisted Therapy Services

What Does Furry Friends Pet Assisted Therapy Services Do?

Our volunteers work as teams to bring Furry Friends on visits to people who live in various kinds of institutions, e.g. nursing homes, facilities for disabled or seriously ill children, hospital rehabilitation wards, the Children's Shelter, psychiatric facilities, etc. Currently, our visits to facilities are in Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, and San Mateo counties, California.

Is There Any Science Behind Pet Therapy?

Anyone who has ever owned a pet knows of the tremendous love and acceptance pets bring. Pets don't care how we look or even how we act; they love us unconditionally. For people who are in difficult life situations, pets can be of special benefit. Petting a dog, for instance, has been shown to lower blood pressure. Animals can often reach people when human relationships may be difficult. Scientific research has shown that interaction with animals can significantly improve humans' physical and emotional health. Put as simply as possible, pets make people feel good and help them heal.

Animal therapy isn’t a new concept. As early as the 1790s, the Quakers at a retreat for the mentally ill in England had patients commune with farm animals, which they felt would be more helpful than the harsh treatment often used on those with psychiatric problems.

Recent research corroborates what the Quakers already knew. For example, a study in 1992 of 8,000 Australians reported that pet owners were less likely to get heart disease than their pet-less counterparts. Even though the owners in the study ate more meat and fast-food than non-pet owners, they had lower blood pressure, plasma cholesterol, and triglycerides, and got more exercise. A St. Louis University study of 92 patients hospitalized in coronary care units for angina or heart attack found that those who owned pets

were more likely to be alive a year later units for angina or heart attack found that those who owned pets were more likely to be alive a year later than those who did not. The study found that only 6 percent of patients who owned pets died within one year compared with 28 percent of those who did not own pets. In a study conducted at City Hospital in New York, it was found that heart patients who owned pets were significantly more likely to be alive a year after they were discharged from the hospital than those who didn't own pets. The presence of a pet was found to give a higher boost to survival rate than either a spouse or friends.

Pet visitation has also been found to produce measurable benefits by fostering socialization, increasing responsiveness, facilitating mental alertness and enhancing an outward focus on the environment.

The therapeutic use of pets as companions has gained increasing attention in recent years for a wide variety of patients — people with AIDS or cancer, the elderly, and the mentally ill. Unlike people, with whom interactions may be quite complex and unpredictable, animals provide a constant source of comfort and focus for attention.

How Did Furry Friends Get Started?

Furry Friends Pet Assisted Therapy Services began in 1983 by Judy Kell, whose nine-year-old daughter came down with a rare and aggressive form of cancer that eventually took her life. Judy noticed that one of the very few things that lifted her daughter's spirits was the interaction with her cat.

Judy, a veterinary technician by profession, consulted with Dr. John Quick, a veterinarian in Morgan Hill and together with Dr. Cecil Agee, a pediatric physician, approached Lucille Packard Children's Hospital with the idea of bringing animals to the hospital. This was the first visitation of Furry Friends Pet Assisted Therapy Services.

Furry Friends is an independent, local organization. However, it is based on the principles of pet-facilitated therapy, a recognized and researched therapeutic technique.

How Many Visits Does Furry Friends Make?

We provide monthly visits at over 150 facilities through Santa Clara, San Mateo, and Santa Cruz counties. We have over 500 active volunteers, sharing the love of their animals with people in need.

Where Do Furry Friends Come From?

The pets belong to the volunteers who go on visits. All pets must pass a physical and behavioral evaluation before attending visits.

What Kind of Time Commitment Do Volunteers Make?

Our visits are generally either one or one-and-a-half hours per month. Volunteers can choose from our participating sites to ensure they are on the team that best suits their schedule, location, preferences and animal’s temperament.

Members can belong to as many teams as they wish, so the decision of how much time to commit is really theirs.

What's The Screening Process?

We don't require any special training or certifications. We're looking for animals that naturally seek and enjoy human companionship.

We require a veterinarian pet assessment of the animal's health, vaccination records, and temperament. Many Bay Area vets offer a discount for this evaluation; be sure to ask your vet when you schedule the appointment.

The last step is for the new volunteer and their pet to attend an etiquette class held every month by our staff behaviorist. That's it.

My Animal Isn’t “Furry.” Can I Still Join?

Certainly. We have had members with birds, lizards, snakes, as well as guinea pigs, llamas, miniature horses, cats, pigs, rabbits, and mice. We haven’t had any fish volunteer yet, but would be willing to consider them!

How do I join Furry Friends?

All of the information and forms you would need are located on our web site under New Volunteers. The process can take several weeks, to get all of your forms filled out by your veterinarian, processed by our office and attend our class. We are an all-volunteer organization, so your patience is appreciated.

My student needs to do some community service for school. Is Furry Friends a good place for him/her?

Yes, we love to have students join our teams, with or without pets, and with or without other family members. You'll need to check our requirements on the Site page to make sure they meet our eligibility and age restrictions for any particular facility that is of interest. You must be aware, though, that we only visit each facility on the average of once a month. That means that if your student needs several hours to fulfill a class requirement, it might take several months to do so.

It can also take a few months to get your student into our new volunteer class. These are held once a month and all forms must be in our office at least two weeks prior to the class. However, classes fill up quickly and Furry Friends cannot commit to a particular class date.

We occasionally need administrative help for various projects. Students can also receive community service credit for working on computer activities, assisting a site as a roving photographer, etc. When these projects come up, we solicit help from our existing student volunteers.

Furry Friends is a wonderful organization for both kids and adults. We encourage students to get involved early in their school year to ensure that they receive the maximum number of hours possible. Furry Friends' primary mission is to support the people we visit. It is in the spirit of achieving that objective that we would encourage students of all ages to join.

I Want to Visit A Specific Site. Can I?

We are always looking for more sites that need our special type of therapy. If you have a loved one in a facility that is willing to work with us, please let us know. You can have them fill out the new site application form on our web site.

However, Furry Friends Pet Assisted Therapy Services works in a team format. We don't authorize individuals to visit alone at a site. There must be a team captain and at least 3 team members for Furry Friends to approve a visit.

How Does Furry Friends Operate?

Furry Friends Pet Assisted Therapy Services is a registered nonprofit corporation and governed by its Board of Directors. All Board meetings are open to the public. We are a volunteer organization. Our volunteers help administer, manage and deliver our services.

Who Supports Furry Friends?

Furry Friends depends on membership dues along with donations from individuals, “Amazon Smile” and new site & special visits fees.  Many of our members pursue corporate matching funds by their employers to help support the good work we do. Check with your company to see if they have such a program. We do not receive any city, county, state or federal funding.  Furry Friends is a California non-profit corporation; all donations are tax deductible.

What Can I Help With?

Furry Friends is an all-volunteer organization. In addition to visiting sites, we also need volunteers to help us with clerical tasks and events. If you have some spare time and would like to support a great cause, please contact us at

I Don't Live In Santa Cruz, Santa Clara or San Mateo. Can I Still Volunteer?

We suggest you contact your local animal shelter, veterinarian or hospitals for recommendations of local organizations that do pet visitations. You can also investigate the Delta Society.

I'm a Member of Therapy Dogs International. Can I Join Furry Friends as well?

Not at this time. Therapy Dogs International does not accept associate members who have dogs certified with any type of therapy dog related program or organization. They will only certify members who make a full and exclusive commitment to their organization. Furry Friends does not have such a policy. We encourage our members to volunteer with their pets as much as their time and energy permits ... with our teams or with other organizations.

I am working on a research paper. Can Furry Friends provide me with some background information or assistance?

All of the information we have about pet therapy can be found on our Frequently Asked Questions page. We are an all-volunteer organization and unfortunately, don't have the time or resources to assist in research projects.

Can I Adopt or Turn in a Rescued Pet to Furry Friends?

Furry Friends Rescue is a separate organization from Furry Friends Pet Assisted Therapy Services. For more information about pet rescue, you can check out their web site at

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