Therapy Dogs Share Compassion And Painting Skills

Each fall, I get covered in paint. Wagging tails dripping with acrylics graze my pants and colorful paw prints dot my shirt. Thankfully, the majority of the paint lands on stretched canvases artfully decorated by the therapy dogs, horses, and clients at S.T.A.R.S., Special Troopers Adaptive Riding School, in northwest Iowa.

As a volunteer, I help set up the painting workstations and guide people with physical, emotional, and cognitive challenges around the nonprofit organization’s barn. The nurturing environment encourages participants to leave their inhibitions at the door; everyone is an artist and ready to let creativity take over. Horse tails and dog ears magically become paintbrushes. The rural landscape fills with squeals from happy children, excited barks, and joyful laughs.

The true stars of the event are the therapy animals and their handlers. The special canines and equines undergo months of training to earn their certifications. At S.T.A.R.S., the therapy dogs are owned and trained by volunteers who selflessly devote their energy and expertise to helping others.

The S.T.A.R.S. clients don’t realize the hours of training these unique animals have completed and the amount of self-control they’ve learned in order to be part of the painting party. And on painting day, the animals’ skills shine through. It takes a special therapy team (consisting of an animal and a human) to allow strangers to dip dog paws in paint and maneuver them onto a canvas. Each October, the canvases are auctioned off at the S.T.A.R.S. annual fall festival as a fundraiser to keep the animal-assisted therapy program open and available to those who need a little help along their road to recovery and healthier days.

When the S.T.A.R.S. K-9 therapy dogs aren’t at the barn, they’re visiting nursing homes, hospitals, and libraries, eliciting smiles and boosting the confidence of everyone they meet. They provide limitless emotional support and compassion to people of all ages.

I’ll volunteer for a sixth time this fall to help with the annual painting event. Do you love animals and helping people, too? Consider getting involved in an animal-assisted therapy program in your area. Whether training your four-legged companion to be a therapy dog or simply volunteering at events like this, extra helping hands are always welcome and appreciated.

Image source: Angela Tague