Emphasizing an idea most have known for a while, a post on Harvard Medical School’s health blog detailed a therapy dog that reduced employees and students’ stress at work. However, whether due to financial constraints or unfit living situations, it’s unfortunate that college students – a cohort constantly bombarded with work – many times cannot have an animal of their own.
Enter Humane Society of Sarasota County’s (HSSC) Excursion Buddy program – a program to fulfill all fluffy, stress-reducing, animal needs.
“Unfortunately, most colleges do not allow pets inside dorms so often students are forced to leave their pets at home; or they are unable to commit to the time or cost of a pet when leaving for college,” HSSC Communications Coordinator Nalani Simpson said in an email interview. “The Excursion Buddy program is an excellent way to live vicariously through pet owners, get the love and cuddles everyone needs, help an animal, and ultimately, assist with finding the pet its forever home.”
Having just begun this past summer, Excursion Buddy allows volunteers to “check-out” a dog at HHSC to take into the community for a few hours. As HSSC’s website concisely states, “This is a great option for college students or others who are prohibited from having pets but still want to help shelter animals get adopted.”
“This helps raise the visibility of the shelter pet, allows people to view the animal outside of shelter (in a standard day-to-day situation), and you can even showcase their skills such as ‘sit’ and ‘stay’ to potential adopters,” Simpson said. “The animal will receive socialization, get a chance to be adopted, and enjoy their time just spending the day with you outside of shelter.”
Someone interested in the Excursion Buddy program must first apply to be a HSSC volunteer on their website. The application is reviewed, and the applicant is contacted to complete the appropriate volunteer trainings.
“Once all trainings and requirements are met, all you do is select an adoptable dog at HSSC’s shelter and take the dog into the community for a few hours at a time,” Simpson said.
All supplies are provided to the Excursion Buddies participant, including a leash, an “adopt me vest” and flyers telling the story of the dog.
The Humane Society of Sarasota County began in 1951 with Donald Evans, whose lost dog was euthanized by a dog catcher. After that experience, Evans began a Humane Society to prevent other animals from getting wrongfully euthanized. In early 1952, that idea became a reality, and HSSC became officially incorporated. Growing from its original 48 kennels and one room for six cats, HSSC now houses 82 air-conditioned kennels and room for 80 cats.
In March 2009, HSSC became a no-kill shelter, which means, as its website states, “No adoptable pet would be euthanized to make space for another.” Each day, the Society has an average of 150 animals in their care.
That same post on Harvard Medical School’s blog concisely summarized research on animals’ health benefits. It states, “Pets have been shown to lower blood pressure, improve recovery from heart disease, and even reduce rates of asthma and allergy in children” and that “Pets also improve people’s psychological well-being and self-esteem.”
“Studies certainly show that animals can reduce stress and foster a comfortable environment for learning, though HSSC enacts these practices through our Education Programs,” Simpson said.
HSSC’s Education Programs practice humane education, which, according to Simpson, “is the teaching of compassion and respect related to animal welfare and examines the challenges facing our planet and explores how we might live with compassion and respect for everyone.”
These programs take the form of classroom visits, shelter tours, pet therapy and reading to animals.
There are other ways to volunteer with HSSC. This includes the “Mini Stay-Cation” program, which sees volunteers take a dog off-site for a day or weekend; the “Matchmaker” program – which helps potential adopters find the right pet – and the “Adoption Ambassadors” program, which is an American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) initiative that “empowers HSSC volunteers to foster a pet, promote the animal in their community, identify potential adopters, and even finalize the adoption process,” according to Simpson.
The Excursion Buddy program actually stemmed from the Adoption Ambassadors program.
“ASPCA research has shown that programs like Adoption Ambassadors help reach a new pool of adopters and result in lower return rates than traditional shelter adoptions,” Simpson said. “Not only are lives saved, but space, time, and resources are freed up at shelters.
“Often people find that they want to foster or help get shelter pets adopted, but do not have the time or are unable to commit to such an in depth program such as the Adoption Ambassador program. Thus the Excursion Buddy program was established so time-limited volunteers could still help shelter pets in need,” Simpson continued.
The Excursion Buddy program runs during the same time as HSSC’s normal business hours, which are Tuesday through Friday, 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., and Saturday, 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.