September 24, Get Outside & Walk With Your Pet
On Saturday, September 24, thousands of pets will be walking with their humans on a special national day as dog owners in cities across the nation raise awareness and funds to help the nonprofit Pet Partners.
Pet Partners is based in Washington state with affiliate offices in many cities across the US which brings trained pets to visit humans in recovery, including those with intellectual disabilities and seniors with Alzheimer’s.
Pet Partners is the national leader in animal-assisted therapy, activities, and education and pet visits include students, veterans with PTSD, people who have experienced crisis events, and those approaching end of life. Therapy animals include nine species of creatures, including dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, llamas, and alpacas.
Being honored this year is the late Carolyn Marr, a Dallas resident who gave tirelessly to the organization and the pet therapy programs in the Dallas area. She passed away in 2021 after last year’s walk.
Five years in the Making
The National Pet Walk idea came from the Director of Development of Pet Partners, Traci Pryor, over five years ago. “There are so many ways that therapy animals can help humans,” says Elisabeth Van Every, a spokesperson in the Washington state office. “The ‘Walk With Me’ therapy program is a simple concept, that movement in general is good for us. We need exercise to improve mental and physical health.” The “Worlds’ Largest Pet Walk” is a way to bring this message to the nation, while raising funds to bring more pets to people.
The first National Pet Walk was in 2014, and Pet Partners now has staff across the country, from Tucson, Arizona to Raleigh and Charlotte North Carolina, Reno and Las Vegas, Nevada, to Salt Lake City, Utah; two staff are in southern California near Los Angeles and San Diego and more work in South Carolina and south-central Virginia, Richmond, and Winchester. “Our program is nationwide,” Elisabeth explains. “There are Pet Partners teams across the country and people who are interested can be trained to become Pet Partners with their pet.”
Elisabeth notes that “The most important thing is the therapy animal. You can train a dog to do anything, but we want animals that like people, and are naturally interactive.”
She explains that the human end of the leash is equally important. “Our human partner needs to make sure the animal is enjoying the experience. And of course, they provide the transportation – dogs can’t drive themselves to appointments – yet.”
An educational course that teaches pet owners about being a handler plus a health screening from their pet’s veterinarian are required. The last step is a screening interview for both the pet and its handler. Both are meeting people they haven’t met before, in a place they haven’t been to, and includes seeing how they react to an unexpected noise, to safely ensure that this unfamiliar environment and meeting strangers is what the animals really enjoy and want to do. Upon completing their registration, the partners get credentials and liability insurance.
The partners get to choose where they visit. “Relatively common for our Pet Partners are health care facilities and senior living facilities.” Monthly or bi-monthly visits are scheduled, and the only restriction is that the partners are in a one-to-one relationship: one handler and one animal. And visits are no more than two hours in a day. “Some animals would be perfectly fine with more time than that,” says Elizabeth, “but we don’t want to wear an animal or their human partner out.”
Who Can Be a Partner?
Pet Partners currently accepts nine different animals. Dogs are the biggest category. Then there are cats, equine (miniature horses), donkeys, rabbits, Guinea pigs, domestic rats, birds (parrots and pigeons), miniature pigs, llamas, and alpacas. Pet Partners is the only national group that register this broad list of species.
The “Fifth Annual World’s Largest Pet Walk on September 24, Encouraging Physical Activity for People and Pets,” is a full-day celebration and the signature fundraiser highlights the powerful impact pets have on human health and well-being.
Based in Bellevue, Washington, Pet Partners is the nation’s leading nonprofit organization registering therapy animals for animal-assisted interventions. Presented by the Wellness Pet Company, Pet Partners is inviting people around the world to get out their walking shoes, grab their leashes, and join the walk this year to help Pet Partners raise $100,000 to support therapy animal visitations.
This event is for anyone who wants to enjoy the health benefits of being active with pets and those participating in the walk are encouraged to walk at any time and anywhere convenient for them on September 24.
Whether Participants can walk around their block, lead a group walk in their community, or take a quiet hike with their animal. “Pets are not only good for our emotional well-being but can also be beneficial to our physical health as well, and this walk proves just that,” said C. Annie Peters, President & CEO of Pet Partners. “Walking with your pet can have positive outcomes for both the pet and the pet parent, so participating in this event is a win-win!”
Honoree from Dallas Carolyn Marr
This year, the annual walk will honor a very special Walk Champion posthumously: Carolyn Marr. Carolyn was a member of Pet Partners of Greater Dallas. She believed in the healing benefits of animals and dedicated her life to that cause, passionately serving as a handler, team evaluator, and volunteer instructor for Pet Partners.
During her many years of volunteer service Carolyn and her registered therapy animals visited thousands of people in need. She was an avid supporter of this event and of Pet Partners for many years and died shortly after participating in last year’s World’s Largest Pet Walk.
As one of the original founders of Pet Partners of Greater Dallas, she and fellow pet lover Sue Shultz worked together in The Delta Society before deciding to be a local chapter of Pet Partners.
Sharon Alexander, now the Evaluator and Coordinator of Pet Partners of Greater Dallas, says she met them at a local pet fair in Richardson. At the time, she was thinking about training her Australian Kelpie, Freedom, to be a service animal.
Freedom had been on the streets of Bedford and was picked up with a nylon rope embedded in her neck. “They were about to euthanize her when the technician looked at her and Freedom licked her hand,” Sharon recalls. “So, the technician couldn’t do it – instead, she found a local rescue group and got her the treatment she was badly needed.” Sharon felt Freedom had something else to give. “She had the temperament to be a therapy dog.”
Once she met Carolyn Marr, “She was so enthusiastic and so nice, I remember thinking, maybe this could work for me.” Sharon became a became a handler, “and then Carolyn talked me into being an evaluator!”
When Carolyn decided to retire from doing the day-to-day work of Pet Partners, she asked Sharon to become a coordinator.
Sharon says, “Carolyn was always there for every evaluation. She looked after people. She made sure they were happy with what they were doing. Her love of animals was insurmountable. She brought them into her church, and her workplace long before people thought about bringing animals into those places.”
Carolyn also brought her trained animals to Terrell State Hospital to help with therapy for those patients living there.
Sharon says Carolyn was a tremendous influencer for the entire group at Pet Partners, “and she had wonderful stories to tell! She could make us laugh and you grew through her knowledge and experience.”
How to Get Involved
Those interested can visit petpartners.org/wlpw to learn more, sign up, and create their online fundraising page. See Pet Partners on Facebook for ideas.
Pet Partners encourages participants to share photos of their walk on social media using the hashtag #WorldsLargestPetWalk.
Lilia Hollis, CEO of White Rock Dog Rescue is encouraging all her pet owners to participate in the walk. “Pets definitely make a positive impact on our lives through companionship,” she says, “They ease loneliness, anxiety, and depression. What is better than having someone super excited to see you and spend time with you every single day?”
As a special thank you to those who fundraise, Pet Partners is offering incentives such as pet bandannas, commemorative T-shirts, and more. Funds raised through the World’s Largest Pet Walk support Pet Partners’ Therapy Animal Program, which is made up of visiting therapy animal teams who bring comfort and joy to members of the public, typically in facility settings such as hospitals, nursing homes, schools, libraries, airports, and at workplace well-being events.
Pet Partners is the national leader in demonstrating and promoting the health and wellness benefits of animal-assisted therapy, activities, and education. Since the organization’s inception in 1977, the science proving these benefits has been verified in numerous studies. With thousands of registered teams making millions of visits annually, Pet Partners serves as the nation’s most diverse and respected nonprofit registering handlers of multiple species as volunteer teams.
With the release of its Standards of Practice for Animal-Assisted Interventions and international expansion, Pet Partners is globally recognized as the industry gold standard. For more information on Pet Partners, visit petpartners.org.
For more information on the World’s Largest Pet Walk, please contact Elisabeth Van Every at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit petpartners.org/wlpw