Written and Photographed by Barbara King
A hospital visit can be a frightening, often pain-filled journey for a patient. Then the quiet is interrupted by the sounds of padded feet up the hallway and the animal parade has begun.
The dogs, cats and bird that make up the Therapet troupe have a purpose that is truly a mission from the heart. Therapet is an Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT), solely volunteer organization, which uses animals in visitation and therapeutic programs to promote health, hope, and healing. All the animals in the program are family pets that have been specifically trained by their owners to benefit the program.
Currently, the Therapet program consists of 90 dogs, a few cats, and even a cockatoo, who bring their loving, non-judgemental natures to assist in therapies in many different settings. What began as a small group of six or seven founding volunteers, has now grown to over 100 volunteers, bringing their dedication and passion to make a difference. Started in 1994, the nonprofit is fully funded by the generous donations of individuals and corporations who realize the benefits the animals provide in terms of helping to achieve the best patient outcomes, including better physical, social, emotional, and cognitive performances.
Carianne Sites, Executive Director of Therapet, says, “It is such a win/win for the animals, the clients, doctors, nurses, and therapists who love to work with the animals and who actually see a marked improvement in their patients when they can touch, walk and spend time with the animals.”
Lots of folks wonder how their animal can become a Therapet and as Sites explains, “We hold our pets up to the highest standards, and they must have the temperaments and personalities to be in situations that require a lot of patience and interaction.”
The animals must pass obedience testing, an application and veterinary screening, Therapet skills training sessions, temperament testing, and complete a successful probationary period. Approximately 40% of the Therapet animals are rescues. The dogs must be at least one year old, and volunteers should be at least 16 years of age.
The benefits of the Therapet program are almost too much to name, including motivation and sense of well-being, reduced anxiety, loneliness and stress, improved endurance, range of motion and strength, faster recovery from serious physical or emotional trauma, improved communication and social skills, and improvement in fine motor skills, mobility, and balance.
The Therapet volunteers and their pets get to choose visitation programs and times that suit their work and life schedules, including visits to Trinity Mother Frances Rehabilitation Hospital, Tyler ISD, East Texas Medical Center, East Texas Crisis Center, Texas Department of Corrections, Skyview Unit, Boshears Center for Exceptional Programs, Rusk State Hospital, and the Children’s Advocacy Center.
Wendy Gerard and her two dogs, Murray (weighing in at 110 pounds, a very large Labradoodle) and Yager, (a smaller beagle) are in the program, and Wendy is treasurer and Board Member for the organization. “It is really a joy and honor to be involved in this program and see the difference it can make in people’s lives,” she explained. “It is a ministry to me, and the both dogs love knowing they are ‘going to work.’ We were at the Boshears School not very long ago and a young boy was having seizures and also experiencing extreme head pain. I had Murray lay down on the floor with the boy, covered them both up with a blanket, and the boy began patting Murray’s fur, cuddled up, and immediately calmed down. There they were, with paws and feet sticking out from under the blanket, just being warm and calm and safe together.”
Holly Welmaker has been actively involved with Therapet since 1999 and had the first Dalmation, Daisy, to ever be in the program. Now she works and travels with her dachshund Riley, and normally puts in 6-8 volunteer hours a month at different locations.
“It is an absolute joy to be part of Therapet, and I can’t imagine my life without it,” said Welmaker. “When Riley sees the leash and sees me put on my blue Therapet shirt, we both get so excited to be able to help in any small way to make a life more bearable, happy, and productive.”
“It is a one of a kind experience and an incredible way to give back to the community,” she said. “When we go to the Skyview unit, the prisoners smile from ear to ear because it gives them contact and normalcy, and maybe even some hope for that brief period of time.”
Yet another unique program that Therapet is involved with is R.E.A.D. (Reading Education Assistance Dogs), which helps improve elementary level reading skills. The students are more motivated and less self-conscious reading to the dogs. “Sometimes students who are introverted will make a connection with a particular animal and really open up,” explained Welmaker. “We will notice after the session is over, that a student will be whispering a secret directly into a dog’s ear.”
The visits to local hospitals are especially rewarding, as volunteers tell stories of comatose patients that open their eyes and have tears on their face as they feel the warmth of an animal. “We have patients who ask to see a specific breed, or maybe a smaller or bigger dog, as it evokes wonderful memories of pets they had when they were younger,” said Welmaker.
Executive Director Sites says that one thing most people are not aware of is that you do not need to have a pet to be part of the program. “We have lots of volunteer opportunities available, from helping with our fundraisers, to being part of the team that goes to the hospitals, to working at Mistletoe & Magic in our booth.”
Murray, the biggest Labradoodle ever, said goodbye to me with his sweet, big wet eyes, as he curls up to get some shut-eye before he has to go back to work with Therapet.
For more information about Therapet, please visit www.therapet.org, or call (903)535-2125 or on Facebook at “Therapet.”
At Cowan Center: “The Wizard of Oz” April 21st
The Cowan Center is located at 3900 University Blvd. on the UT Tyler campus. Tickets are available at the box office, by calling (903)566-7424, or go to cowancenter.org. Upcoming productions are:
April 21st (7:30pm) – “The Wizard of Oz” will be presented at the Cowan Center. There truly is no place like home! The entire family will be captivated as they travel down the Yellow Brick Road and beyond with Dorothy, Toto, and their friends the Cowardly Lion, the Tin Man, and the Scarecrow in this lavish production, featuring breathtaking special effects, dazzling choreography, and classic songs. Tickets are $37-$72.
April 28th (7:30pm) – Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 will be presented at the Cowan Center. The East Texas Symphony will close their season with Beethoven’s monumental Symphony No. 9. The Orchestra will be joined by ETSO Chorus, UT Tyler Concert Chorale, and Patriot Singers, and a quartet of soloists. The concert also features the ETSO premieres of Handel’s Zadok the Priest and Brahms’ Nanie. It’s a grand evening of choral music ending the season on a high note.
May 10th (7:30pm) – The Celtic Women will be presented at the Cowan Center. This global phenomenon started on a winter Dublin night in 2004. The idea was conceived to create a musical ensemble featuring a selection of exceptional classically and traditionally trained Irish female musicians. Tickets are $42-$77.
Calling All Poets, April 21st
The East Texas Spoken Word Invitational Competition
The East Texas Spoken Word Invitational is an ‘East Texas poets only’ competition and will be held Saturday, April 21st, 7:30-9:30pm at El Guapo Records, 257 S. Broadway Ave., Downtown Tyler.
On this night, come celebrate International Poetry Month in a family-friendly space. At this collective community gathering, the featured poet will be Aaron Dunn, author of the new collection “Poetry For Your Sake.” Aaron will be reciting works which will be available for purchase.
There will be 12 poets selected for his annual spoken word event. Prizes will be awarded. Poets can enter the competition for $10. There is free admission for any audience member.
Tickets are available at eventbrite.com > East Texas Spoken Word Invitational. To participate, you must have an eventbrite ticket.
Seating is limited. For more info call or text (972)704-5001 or go to mikeguinn.biz.
Liberty Hall: Bill Anderson in Concert
Country Music Hall of Famer Bill Anderson in concert this weekend!
Liberty Hall is hosting a variety of upcoming events. Liberty has something for all ages! Liberty Hall is located at 103 E. Erwin St., Tyler. Tickets are available online at libertytyler.com.
April 20th (7pm) – Bill Anderson in Concert – Country Music Hall of Famer, Bill Anderson, has been a member of the Grand Ole Opry sine 1961. One of the most popular, most enduring entertainers of our time, he’s known, in fact as “Whispering Bill,” a nickname hung on him years ago as a result of his breathy voice and his warm, soft approach to singing a country song. For tickets call (866)710-8942. Tickets start at $40.
April 21st (8pm) – Mouse & The Traps – After more than 50 years together, Mouse & the Traps continue to be one of the best examples of “Texas Rock & Roll.” Formed in Tyler, Texas in 1965, Mouse, Nardo, Dave & Larry continue to give the public just what they want – great rock and roll. Whether you remember “Public Execution,” “Hit the Bricks,” or not, Mouse & The Traps has something for everyone. Tickets are $20-$25.
May 10th (7pm) – Twitty & Lynn: Grandchildren of Conway & Loretta in Concert – Tayla Lynn grew up in the heart of Tennessee and started singing with her grandmother at an early age. Tre Twitty, the grandson of the late Conway Twitty, is a remarkable young talent and will perform as well. For tickets call (866)710-8942. Tickets start at $30.
June 27th (7pm) – Country Music Hall of Famer Connie Smith – In 1964, Connie Smith recorded the Bill Anderson-written “Once a Day.” Issued as her first single, it spent eight weeks at #1. She also cut darkly personal songs, including “Ribbon of Darkness” and “The Last Letter.” For tickets call (866)710-8942. Tickets start at $40.
July 20th (7pm) – “Sail On: The Beach Boys Tribute” is a show based out of Nashville, TN, that focuses on performing songs by America’s Band, The Beach Boys, to sheer perfection. The show includes over 30 well-known hits. Members of Sail On have performed with Brian Wilson’s band, The Zombies, Earth Wind and Fire, Cheap Trick, Mark Lindsay. Tickets are $20.
August 11th (8pm) – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Bluegrass Band will visit Liberty once again! They are a modern bluegrass band that plays and sings the songs of The Beatles. Performing some of the very best music composed by Paul McCartney, John Lennon and George Harrison, beloved songs are presented with instruments you normally wouldn’t expect to hear. Tickets are $20.
August 16th (7pm) – The Bellamy Brothers – Best-known for the easy rolling, ‘70s Southern soft rock classic “Let Your Love Flow,” the Bellamy Brothers are the most successful duo in country music history, consistently climbing into the upper reaches of the Billboard country charts during the ‘80s, including “Redneck Girl,” “If I Said You Had A Beautiful Body, Would You Hold It Against Me,” ‘“You Ain’t Just Whistlin’ Dixie,” and “Dancin’ Cowboys.” For tickets call (866)710-8942. Tickets start at $40.
EGuide Magazine’s Gig Guide
Date Night: From Fancy to Simple, Tyler Offers a Lot of Romance
April 21st: Lead the Way 5K and more Upcoming Races
Theatre Guide: “Love, Loss & What I Wore” on Stage at Lindale Theatre
The Apple Didn’t Fall Far From The Tree
April 25th-28th: “Hamlet” on Stage at TJC
Duck! Here It Comes!
Art in the Garden April 28th at the Rose Garden
Kane Brown at TJC in Concert April 25th
“Secure Your ID Day” April 21st
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