Human beings are beginning to recognize that animals are a significant health tonic. The movement to incorporate animals into healthcare settings has grown rapidly in the last few years, and Intermountain Therapy Animals (ITA) is one of its strongest proponents. ITA trains and certifies volunteers and their pets as Pet Partners©. Once certified, Pet Partner teams go to hospitals, schools, libraries, senior care centers and youth detention facilities to provide animal-assisted therapy (ATT). ITA is affiliated with the Delta Society, an international organization headquartered near Seattle, Washington that provides testing and training standards for animal/handler teams. Today, ITA has more than 250 teams that give more than 12,000 hours of service each year. Most ITA programs are located in Utah, however, they have recently expanded with chapters in Bozeman, Montana, Twin Falls, Idaho and Reno, Nevada.
ITA volunteers reach out to clients in many kinds of health care facilities to assist with their recovery. Adding an animal to the prescription often seems to open the doors that inspire people to decide to heal and to participate in the important therapies that will help them do so. AAT has proven to be a valuable therapeutic tool with physical, speech, occupational and psychotherapies as well as special education. Clients with brain and spinal cord injuries, those in substance abuse rehabilitation, and children who have suffered emotional and sexual abuse are some of the populations that ITA works with. The ITA teams visit clients at Primary Children’s, McKay-Dee Hospitals, Primary Children’s Residential Center and the University of Utah’s Medical Center. At the University of Utah Medical Center, ITA teams see patients in the Rehabilitation Unit, the Burn Unit and the surgical waiting room. ITA volunteers also go to LDS Hospital, Shriner’s Hospital for Children, Utah Schools for the Deaf and Blind and Utah Youth Services’ Observations & Assessment facilities. The ITA teams serve more than 75 facilities.
ITA’s clients are people of all ages, from all economic backgrounds, races and ethnic groups. Many are the disadvantaged and abused, physically and emotionally disabled.
Pet Partners are uniquely qualified to serve all of its individual clients. The animals are not prejudiced; they have no language or cultural barriers. They are trained to address the needs of their clients. Research results document the positive benefits of AAT, including lower blood pressure, decreased stress, decreased depression and increased client motivation to participate in the therapy necessary to make progress toward healing.
ITA is a comprised of volunteers who donate their time and energy to provide AAT free of charge to all their clients. Although volunteers do not serve for praise, their dedication and commitment have resulted in considerable recognition. Among awards that have been given to the organization or to individual volunteers are Utah Governor Mike Leavitt’s Point of Light Award, the HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital annual award to the group that did the most to improve the lives of those with disabilities, an award from The University of Utah’s Bennion Center Award for Creative Community Leadership, the Annual Award of the Utah Recreational Therapists Association for Outstanding Program of the Year and the 1999 Utah Animal Organization of the Year Award.