By Lauren Means | Photos Courtesy Music City Love on a Leash
Imagine you’re in the hospital battling an illness. You’ve been in the hospital for a week staring at the same four walls and talking to the same people — the doctors, nurses, and care team members. They can’t tell you how much longer before you’ll be well enough to go home. That can be an emotionally trying time and could very well lead to an element of depression.
Now imagine your nurse tells you about a new program they are participating in where specially trained dogs and cats are able to come in for visits to the hospital. That would be news to bring a smile to most people’s faces.
This is a possibility for many facilities thanks to programs like Love on a Leash (LOAL). Liz Palika, an author and dog obedience instructor, created LOAL in 1984. She introduced pet-provided therapy to the residents in San Diego County in California and quickly saw a need for a larger organization to accommodate the growing number of requests she received from facilities, schools and hospitals. As of 2020, there are over 2,300 members throughout the United States.
Love in Music City
The Music City LOAL chapter was established in September 2015 and provides certification procedures for therapy pets and their owners, while working to increase public awareness of the benefits of pet provided therapy. Music City LOAL has volunteers in Davidson County and surrounding counties including Rutherford, Sumner, Wilson, Williamson, Cheatham and Robertson and is certified through the National LOAL Headquarters.
Rebecca Pyle, the Music City LOAL chapter leader, explains, “We’re volunteers that visit locations with our personal pets, trying to spread our pet’s joy and love!” LOAL accepts dogs, cats, and rabbits. The Music City chapter has just over 20 members with mostly dog teams and one cat team consisting of Pyle and her cat Connelly. Most of the locations they visit are nursing homes, schools, and libraries. They currently serve as the mascots for the Challenger division of the Mt. Juliet Little League.
The gains of pet-assisted therapy are trifold — benefiting the pet, the handler, and the receiver of therapy. According to LOAL, the receiver of the visit instantly smiles or laughs and is in a better mood. Animal therapy brings anxiety levels down, lowers blood pressure, distracts from stress, focuses attention, creates friendships, gives them something to look forward to, and initiates conversation.
The handlers are very proud of their animals and want to be there to share. Seeing how much their visits mean to others and how they can brighten someone’s day just by showing up is rewarding beyond comparison according to LOAL. Providing facts about their animal, training history, information about the organization, and personal experiences help educate the public about pet therapy.
Of course, the pet is rewarded with hugs, kisses, squeals of excitement, belly rubs, snuggles, gentle touches, and genuine appreciation for providing unconditional love. Showing off tricks, going to interesting places, meeting new friends, and fun adventures is part of a day’s work for pets participating with LOAL. Also, treats are always a welcome reward for hard work.
According to Pyle, “COVID has at this point essentially shut down our visits as most of the places we normally visit are not letting volunteers visit. We’ve done a few modified visits during this time, but only a handful.”
This shouldn’t deter you from starting the certification process with your pet. The process starts by reviewing the LOAL guidelines to understand exactly what’s required and expected. You need to be prepared to make the time investment it takes to become certified.
Your pet will be evaluated for temperament and obedience and must be approved by a certifying entity such as a certified obedience instructor. From there you have to complete a minimum of 10 LOAL supervised visits and have the visit supervisors sign off before giving a final evaluation. Once that’s complete, you can submit your application along with your membership dues.
All the work is worth the reward to see the love and appreciation shared between your animal and the recipient of services as your pet brings comfort, happiness, and healing to the community.
For more information on Music City Love on a Leash and how to get involved, visit https://musiccityloal.org/.