Sometimes a person just needs the love and affection of a furry friend.

Since 2007, Compassionate Paws has been working with Pet Partners to bring a very unique brand of therapy and healing to locals. They bring cats, dogs and even ponies into hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living facilities and schools.

The companionship of animals is something many of the people they visit treasure and benefit from.

But with covid restrictions, many of their activities have been canceled.

A new project is giving them to chance to still bring the love of an animal to those who need it most.

“It really is upsetting us that we can’t serve the community they way we’d like to,” said Jan Greene, secretary of the board of directors for Compassionate Paws. “But we work with a vulnerable population so we would never want to put them at risk. In a recent board meeting we were discussing how to let the people we serve know we haven’t forgotten about them. We wanted a way to comfort them and give them something to hold on to in this strange and fearful situation.”

The board came up with an idea to take stuffed animals as substitutes to their real-life therapy animals. With he help of local nonprofit Angel Express as well as one generous little girl, Compassionate Paws collected dozens of stuffed animals.

“We use all kinds of animals in the work we do,” Greene said. “At the moment we have a shortage and we’re trying to recruit new pet partner teams in the community but normally we have several dogs, cats, even rabbits and a pet rat.”

She made sure to clarified that the adorable rat is not taken into medical facilities, only into places it’s allowed and is particularly popular with children.

Greene said Angel Express (run by Janet Baltzer) was happy to donate dozens of stuffed animals. Greene also posted about the project on social media. It was that post that prompted the mother of 10-year-old JaKenzie Grogan to contact her.

“She said her daughter learned about our project and really wanted to donate some of her stuffed animals to help,” Greene said. “I thought that was so wonderful and generous of someone that age to be so selfless and to put others before herself.”

All the stuffed animals were washed and sanitized, and each had a card tied around its neck letting their recipients know that a real animal would be visiting as soon as it was possible and that this was just something soft and lovable to hold on to until then.

On July 14, Greene and members of Compassionate Paws, as well as their pet partners took 34 stuffed animals to The Gardens of Rome Senior Living. The pet partners were Misty Rigas and Louis, Jessica Callahan and Pepper, and Lisa Callahan and Happy.

“The staff brought some of the residents outside and it was so good to see them smile when they saw us,” Greene said. “We were wearing our masks and it was wonderful when the residents got to choose what stuffed animal they wanted and were so appreciative and excited. Therapy animals reduce anxiety and give people an overall feeling of calm. When we take dogs somewhere, people will come out of their rooms to seek us out when they know we’re on site. Oftentimes it reminds them of their own pets they had int the past.”

Greene said she hopes that when word of the project gets out, other facilities will contact Compassionate Paws.

“I hope they let us know how many residents they have who would like a stuffed animal and we’ll make it happen,” she said. “We can’t get in to do what we’d like to do but this is the next best thing until we can.”

If you would like to know more about the stuffed animal project or donate, or if you’d like to find out more about Compassionate Paws and becoming a Pet Partner, visit online at www.Romepaws.org.

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