#GivingTuesday: A Chance for People (and Their Dogs!) to Give Back

Sure, waiting in the cold for this year’s doorbusters could be fun. But what if people spent a single day of the holiday season rushing the gates to provide time and service, all in the name of helping others?

That’s the idea behind Giving Tuesday, an up-and-coming movement designed to bring the real reason for the season — namely, the act of giving — back into priority. On the Tuesday following Black Friday (which, this year, falls on December 1), the event’s website encourages people and organizations across the globe “to celebrate generosity and to give,” committing their time, resources, and care to bettering the lives of others. For Linda Messitt, the driving force behind volunteer program Canine Kindness, that means showing a little humankindness — with the help of some nonhuman volunteers.

A Multifaceted Approach

We’ve all heard of animal-assisted therapy and the good it can do. Whether you’re a short-term patient or a veteran nurse, interacting with a trained animal and an engaged, caring handler brings a special kind of relief.

“There are some incredible stories,” Linda said, retelling one she’d recently heard from the field: Upon entering a hospital room, a therapy dog laid its head in the patient’s lap. The patient, who’d just undergone a below-the-knee amputation, was understandably experiencing a rough transition; the dog “intrinsically knew” where the patient hurt and what was bothering her, Linda said, and he rested calmly as the patient petted him.

“(Hearing the story) gave me chills,” Linda said. For the last five years, she and her dog, Oliver, have created these sorts of therapeutic experiences for patients and professionals alike, spreading joy in San Francisco-area hospitals and beyond. Canine Kindness is primarily focused on providing this valuable therapeutic outlet, but another aspect of its mission is just as commendable: In short, the program wants to help potential volunteers and their dogs overcome the financial burdens that come with certification.

For many hospitals, Linda said, the volunteers who want to provide animal-assisted care are older and often on a fixed income. While they have the dogs and desire to help, they lack the resources to certify themselves and their pets. “That’s one of the reasons it’s hard for people to boost up their (animal-assisted-therapy) teams at some of these hospitals,” Linda explained.

The Domino Effect

Canine Kindness’s plan to overcome this obstacle comes in two parts: First, the program wants to financially supplement potential volunteers, paying for certification fees and any recurring membership fees beyond that. Second, it hopes to send volunteers to certification classes, which would then allow the program to certify dogs and owners by itself.

For two relatively simple plans, the potential benefits are far-reaching. Certification would allow volunteers to give time to Canine Kindness and other animal-assisted-therapy programs, bolstering human and canine resources for hospitals in need of two- and four-footed volunteers.

“When (a healthcare professional is) able to just pet, have a laugh, giggle, and have a moment away from what they’re dealing with all day, they go back renewed and refreshed” to their patients, Linda told me. And for patients? “It really brings a little ray of sunshine into a day where all you’re doing is talking about how you feel, having tests, having people poking at you,” Linda explained. “Oftentimes they’re missing their own dogs, and sometimes family members can’t be with them all day long, so having a person that’s not a clinician sit with them for however long they want to changes their day a little bit — a lot, actually.”

None of this is to say that you need to have a dog in order to help programs like Canine Kindness, however, Linda said locations employing therapeutic animals have a diverse set of needs; even basic administrative tasks such as organization and scheduling can benefit greatly from a volunteer’s time and effort.

Giving Tuesday: A Chance to Give More

Linda said financial donations to Canine Kindness are also greatly appreciated. More money contributed means more chances for patients to interact with certified animals. Whether your dollars go to locations with established programs or help new facilities embrace animal-assisted therapy, you’ll be helping to spread what she calls a “community spirit of kindness” to patients and the professionals who care for them.

Whether you choose to give time or other resources to this or another program, make sure to mark Giving Tuesday on your calendar. In addition, don’t forget to spread the word by telling your friends and family what you’re up to. It only takes one person to affect major, positive change in another’s life. What better time than the holiday season to show just how strong the power of giving can be?

Image source: Canine Kindness/Dignity Health