May 4, 2014


Yesterday we went to the HAPPY TAILS orientation.  

The organization was established in Atlanta in 1991, they currently have 270 active members, representing 328 four legged members and they visit 50 facilities in the Atlanta area. There are 42 facilities on the waiting list, so yes they need more volunteer teams. 

I was encouraged to see 30+ people at the meeting yesterday. The Happy Tails representatives that facilitated the meeting both have been with the organization for some time, one six + years and one since the early days. 

They shared several videos of actual Happy Tails team visits to several facilities and the footage brought tears to my eyes. As soon as the Happy Tails four legged visitor is with a client (patient) you can see the immediate shift in their smile, eyes, posture; the affect of the animal on the human is indeed powerful. I know there are many studies that prove a drop in heart rate, blood pressure, etc.  

One of the volunteers said that at the children's facilities they visit, that most of the kids know when the Happy Tails teams are coming and can't wait for the date and time, they are always excited and happy to see the four legged friends. 

The next steps, Maddie has to pass the Happy Tails evaluation. Happy Tails has   a facility in Woodstock that they rent space in where they schedule evaluations  once a month. There is also a health form that needs to be completed by the veterinarian documenting the four legged volunteers overall health and vaccination record. 

The behavior evaluation consists of the four legged team member being able to successfully respond to and manage the sit, down, stay commands.  They have to be successful at loose leash walking, so no pulling. They have to come when called, allow a stranger to pet and comb them and/or touch their paws, and they have to be able to be with other dogs as the visits are always a team of 2 or 3 or 4 handlers and their four legged companions.  There is also a test on sounds, reactions to an umbrella being opened, a book being dropped and also reactions to a wheelchair and walkers.  And last, they have to be able to be with a stranger for 3 to 5 minutes without panicking, barking, whining, etc. 

Happy Tails works with dogs, cats and bunnies - and they've recently joined the Reading Paws programs where they go to libraries or schools and children read to the four legged Happy Tails volunteers. 

Once a volunteer team passes the evaluation and completes all the necessary forms, you are then scheduled on visits without your animal so you can get an idea of how to interact with other team members, the patients, clients, etc.  And last there is a 2 hour volunteer training that covers all the information regarding the visits, code of conduct, how to join a team, the scheduling, etc. 

The goal is to get Maddie in the program and see how it goes.  Morgan is a tiny bit snarky when she is around dogs she does not know.  At the same time, I am confident that Morgan can manage herself if she understands the mission. 

Will keep you posted on how this all goes.  If you know anyone who may be interested have them check out the HAPPY TAILS web site, all the information you need is there. 

And thanks to our dear four legged friend, Dutch Bellville, for the inspiration.  

Dutch Bellville 

Maddie Louise