Do you have a pet that would make a wonderful H.A.B.I.T. pet? Maybe you enjoy bringing a smile to someone's face? We are always glad to have another smiling face (human or pet) to help out! Just take a look at some of things that we ask for below and let us know.
Please email questions to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Procedures for Becoming a Volunteer
1. Attend a General Information Meeting
All potential volunteers are required to attend a General Information Meeting
To be notified of our next meeting please contact us at:
2. Application and Membership Dues
To become a member please print-out and send a completed application along with a cheque for $15 membership dues.
- Membership Dues
$25.00 per household
(No charge for training or behavioral evaluations)
Please make cheques payable to: HABIT
- Please mail application and cheque to:
Department of Comparative Medicine
2407 River Drive
Knoxville, TN 37996
Interested in becoming a member, but not sure about volunteering?
You are welcome to remain on our mailing list as a HABIT friend. However, you must still submit an application and pay dues.
You will be notified of any special programs or activities sponsored by HABIT. You would be welcome to complete the steps toward volunteer status at any time or just remain a "friend"
Informal meetings of volunteers and friends of HABIT are arranged periodically. These are times for sharing experiences and often includes a speaker. Recent speakers have provided tips on grooming and obedience training.
3. Have Animal(s) Medically and Behaviorally Screened
If you have a pet of your own that you would like to take on visits, there is a place on the application for information about your pet. However, pets must be medically and behaviorally screened before they can visit.
Medical Evaluation Form
Copies of this form are available at the General Information Meeting or can be mailed to you from the HABIT Office.
This form is usually completed from your vet's records if your pet has been seen in the last 3-months. (It is the owner's responsibility to get the application to your vet as well as submit the form to the HABIT office)
If you have more than one pet you would like evaluated, the Medical Evaluation Form can be copied. Each pet needs their own form. A cover letter to your veterinarian is available to explain the program in case he/she is not familiar with HABIT.
If it has been longer than that, or if your pet is not up to date on its shots, a visit to your vet will be necessary.
Behavioral Profile And History Form
(the Behavioral Evaluation starts with this form)
- Copies of this form are available at the information meeting or can be mailed to you from the HABIT Office
- This form must be filled-out by the owner
Both the Medical Evaluation and Behavioral Profile & History forms must be on file before an actual behavioral evaluation can be done.
The Behavioral Evaluation
- Usually done at the UT College of Veterinary Medicine
- A copy of the Behavioral Evaluation Form will be available at the training meeting
- You will be contacted by a UT veterinarian for a behavioral evaluation appointment for your pet after the Medical Evaluation Form has been received.
- If your veterinarian chooses to do the behavioral evaluation, he/she should contact the HABIT Office (865) 974-5633 to get copies of the forms.
- There is a form for dogs and a separate one for cats. If you have other pets which may be good for visits, please contact Dr. John New at the College of Veterinary Medicine.
If you would like to be a HABIT Volunteer, but do not have a pet, or don't have an appropriate pet, a few animals are available for loan. Special arrangements must be made to use these animals, and the volunteer is responsible for picking up the pet and returning it. All these animals have been medically and behaviorally screened.
Contact the HABIT office for more information on loaner animals.
4. After Completing the Behavioral Evaluation, You Will Be Contacted By A Volunteer Coordinator
The Volunteer Coordinator will discuss with you the various ongoing programs and arrange a time for you to visit a facility.
5. Observe an Experienced Volunteer with the Animal During A Scheduled Visit
Do not bring your animal to the observation. Arrangements will be made by HABIT.
(Steps 5. and 6. may be done at the same time.)
6. Visit a Designated Facility For An Orientation Tour & Discussion With Facility Contact Person
This visit is done without a pet and will give you the opportunity to meet staff and take an tour of the facility.
(Steps 5. and 6. may be done at the same time.)
7. Be Observed With Your Pet By An Experienced Volunteer
After your pet has completed the screening, it can make its first visit with you under the supervision of an experienced volunteer. This first visit should be a short one. The main purpose of the formal screening is to help assure your pet is healthy and safe. However, the real test is when the pet visits the facility. It is important to see how the pet reacts in a strange environment. We want the visit to be a positive experience for the volunteer and the pet. Be aware that some pets are just too stressed by visits and cannot continue to visit for their own good. Your HABIT representative may accompany you on additional visits if they feel it would be helpful.
Please realize that you and your animal will be accepted as HABIT volunteers only after all steps are taken and positively evaluated. We also appreciate your patience in realizing that HABIT is administered by volunteers. We will evaluate your animals and work with you on placement as soon as possible.
Liability Insurance & Age Limitations
Individuals who have completed all the steps required of volunteers will receive liability coverage by the University of Tennessee. There is no cost for this coverage. Please include your social security number on your application since liability coverage must be filed by name and social security number.
If you are 16 years old or younger, HABIT policy requires that you be accompanied by an adult on all visits with your pet. Some facilities have more restrictive requirements regarding age.
What is expected of H.A.B.I.T. Volunteers?
- Maintain a positive attitude. We are there to promote therapeutic change, not just to entertain.
- Dress appropriately as defined by the facility and be on time.
- Be willing to listen, cooperate, and communicate with residents, facility contact person, head volunteer and program maintenance committee representative.
- Sign in and record number of residents visited each week.
- Be responsible for your animal:
- Keep animal clean, well-groomed, free of external parasites.
- Make sure animal is wearing a clean HABIT scarf.
- Have control of animal at all times. Dogs should be on a short lead.
- Keep an eye on animal while conversing.
- Recognize stress in animal and remove immediately. Be the animals' advocate.
- Be aware of items on floor.
- Let animals interact outside.
- Do not visit if your animal is ill or behaving inappropriately.
- Take your commitment seriously. Notify the facility contact person and either the HABIT head volunteer or Program Maintenance Committee member as soon as possible if you cannot make a scheduled visit.
- Respect the rights of residents and staff.
- Attend annual HABIT meeting.
- If approached about publicity, please contact the HABIT office first (865-974-5633).
To become a member please send, along with your application, a check for $5 for membership dues.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is there "one" set of behavioral standards that ALL HABIT animals MUST exhibit?
There are some general characteristics that the HABIT evaluators look for to ensure that the animal will not only enjoy the visits but will also be beneficial to the patients/clients they are visiting. At a minimum, your animal must enjoy receiving attention from strangers; cats should be comfortable in a carrier or in the owner's arms. Obedience training for dogs is not required but is extremely helpful and is sometimes suggested before an animal is behaviorally approved by the evaluator.
What Are The Problems That Affect The Behavioral Evaluation?
- Jumping on people
Regardless of the size of the animal, jumping up on someone is very inappropriate behavior. Some people will take it as a sign of aggression; it might knock someone off balance or down; elderly people, especially, can have very fragile skin which can be bruised or scratched easily.
People tend to think an animal is biting them when an animal puts their mouth on someone's hand or arm, even if gently done. Skin can be easily scratched or bruised.
Dogs that bark or vocalize can intimidate people or it can just be a noisy nuisance.
Many dog breeds naturally salivate a lot; the owner must be prepared by bringing a clean towel and frequently wiping the animal's mouth as people generally do not enjoy being slobbered on! All animals shed but brushing immediately prior to the visit can help; if your animal tends to shed a lot be prepared to bring a lint brush or masking tape and offer to help remove the hair from someone's clothing. Small dogs, cats, or rabbits can be kept on their own towel.
If your animal really is not interested in receiving attention from others it can affect the enjoyment of your visits. You will feel that you are forcing your animal to do something they really are not interested in and we do not want to put either you or the animal under undue stress.
If your dog exhibits any signs of being afraid of the facility or patients/clients you must remove the animal from the premises immediately. Fearfulness can turn into aggression. If your animal shows signs of stress - undue panting, tucked tail, avoidance of people, looking for a place to escape etc., leave immediately.
What Kind Of Human HABIT Volunteer Makes A Good Partner With Their Animal?
The vast majority of HABIT facilities involve the elderly - in nursing homes, rehabilitation facilities, hospitals, etc. A HABIT human volunteer should be comfortable initiating conversations with elderly people who may be depressed, sick, handicapped, or are mentally incapacitated in some way. The human volunteer must be able to commit not only the time of the visits (no more than an hour) but be willing to bathe and/or groom their animal before each visit. A one hour visit usually takes at least one additional hour of preparation and travel time.
Can My Children, Spouse, Or A Friend Accompany Me On My Visits?
Only with prior approval from the facility and the experienced HABIT volunteer (PMC) who is working with you. Generally, it is not appropriate to take children on HABIT visits. HABIT is designed so that the animal is the focus for therapeutic change. Children, spouse or friends are not covered under our liability insurance.
Is There A HABIT Dress Code?
All HABIT animals must wear or display their scarf! As for the human volunteer, we ask that you dress comfortably and appropriately for the facility you visit. You and your animal represent HABIT and we ask that your appearance reflect well on the professionalism of our organization.
Can I Visit Any Facility On The HABIT List Or Facilities Not On The List?
You will be assigned to visit one facility (some of our volunteers visit two different facilities but they have been approved and oriented to each facility). If you wish to visit another HABIT facility you must contact your PMC member or call the HABIT office for information on the appropriate procedure. If you wish to visit a facility that is not on the HABIT list, that is between you and the facility involved. Your animal may not wear the HABIT scarf in this instance and you are not covered under HABIT's liability insurance.
If I Have Two Approved HABIT Animals, Can I Take Them Together On A Visit?
No. One human volunteer to one animal volunteer.
What Is Expected Of My Animal On Visits?
We expect your animal to be clean, well groomed, free of external parasites, well mannered and willing to receive pats, hugs, and admiring looks. We expect your animal to not take it personally if someone seems to be afraid of them or does not want to admire or touch them. We expect your animal to not jump up on people, to not be too noisy, to not lick or kiss.
Does My Animal Have To Be A Purebred?
HABIT evaluates only dogs, cats, and rabbits and, no, they are not required to be purebred - in fact, most of our volunteer animals are not.
If I Can Only Volunteer In The Summer Or Know I Will Be Moving Out Of The State In The Near Future, Can I Still Be A HABIT Volunteer?
We ask that you be willing to commit at least a year of volunteer time. There is a considerable investment of time on both your part and HABIT's before an animal is approved. It also takes time to become established at the facility that was chosen for you. It is not feasible to go through the process unless you can anticipate being able to devote long range volunteering.
HABIT Volunteering Sounds So Rewarding; Are There Any Problems Or Negative Aspects In The Animal Visits?
There are some things that can make HABIT volunteering difficult. Every visit takes preparation and that means time. Bathing your animal frequently can dry out your animal's coat unless precautions are taken. You should discuss this with your veterinarian.
Not everyone in the facility wants to visit with you or your animal. This on occasion, will include some staff members. Some people are frightened of animals; some do not approve of animals being inside the facility; some folks just do not care for animals. HABIT volunteers are there to visit those who would benefit from and enjoy a visit. We are not there to convince people to like our pet. We must be willing to immediately move on with our animals to those who do wish to visit with our pet when faced with hostility, fear, or aversion.
There are some days you will go for a visit and it just falls flat; it does not meet your expectations. Sometimes the people you usually visit are busy doing something else. Sometimes unpleasant smells or unhappy people sounds are terribly unnerving or unpleasant. These things will happen. Frequently we accomplish good things that are not readily apparent.
Your animal was approved for visits through their medical and behavioral evaluations but not all animals enjoy visiting. Many times this can be alleviated by making sure the visits are not too long, especially if the facility is too warm, or by letting patients do something with your animal that you know they like, i.e. brushing or playing with a toy. Some animals, however, are indifferent to strangers, or really do not enjoy being petted that much or are shy. Don't make them miserable by trying to make them be a HABIT Volunteer. If you think this is the case, discuss it with your PMC contact. You won't be the first.
Not only might the animal be shy but the human volunteer may have a difficult time conversing with strangers. Animals can be wonderful ice breakers to get conversations going but if you are not comfortable talking with people who might be bed ridden, confused, senile, hard of hearing, disabled, etc., then your visits will not be rewarding. Our volunteers determine how they are most effective and comfortable visiting - it may be that you and your animal see only a few people and visit each person longer, or you like a "pet and run" visit where you speak briefly to lots of people. It will take several visits for you to find out how you and your animal like to visit. Be patient and give it a chance.