Is there “one” set of behavioral standards that ALL HABIT animals MUST exhibit?
No. 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.