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Pet Partners strongly believes in the ability for pets to help restore peoples’ energy levels, cope with health issues and improve their overall mood in life.

As the country moves out of the COVID-19 pandemic, many are trying to readapt to what was once their normal life, as well as the stress of work, school or health problems. Often, this can be overwhelming. Pet therapy is an underrated and increasingly common resource for stress management. Pet Partners strongly believes in the ability of pets to restore peoples' energy levels, cope with health issues and improve their overall mood.

Pet Partners is a national nonprofit organization founded in 1991 that acts as a resource for the human-animal bond and substantiates the role of animals in people's health and well-being. Cincinnati's local chapter was officially founded in 2004. The organization regularly goes to schools, retirement communities and health care facilities to spread its message. Members use their own pets to make people feel less nervous and more comfortable, according to the organization.

Heather Hauser, the visit coordinator for the Cincinnati chapter, has been with the organization since 2018. Hauser organizes and arranges visits to different locations so that resident can experience the human-animal bond that Pet Partners promotes. These visits maximize people’s understanding of the importance of therapy animals in our lives.

"It's been proven that interacting with therapy animals raises your oxytocin levels and makes people happy," Hauser said. "So, when people are stressed, it's nice to give them something else to think about."

The organization makes efforts to visit as may different locations as possible, so the most people can experience the positive effects of therapy animal interaction. Pet Partners has even visited the University of Cincinnati (UC) to help during stressful periods for students, such as exam week.

Every year, Pet Partners hosts their World's Largest Pet Walk fundraiser, which they hope will have at least 1,500 walkers and will raise $100,000 to support its program. The event sees people from all over the United States participate.

The walk for the Cincinnati chapter this year will take place on Sept. 24, where Pet Partners will ask pet owners across the city to walk their pets individually in honor of the cause. Although many bring their dogs to the occasion, the walks have previously included all kinds of different people and pets, including rabbits, guinea pigs and llamas.

The walk will also host an occupational therapy conference at Xavier University, where they will speak on the benefits of pet therapy. Pet Partners’ Thank You Operation event will also take place to honor veterans and first responders.

The money raised from the walk will be used for recruitment, according to Hauser. Specifically, the organization hopes to operate more handler workshops to train its volunteers. The organization also hopes to form a scholarship program for Cincinnatians to register with Pet Partners to get their pet through all the needed training to become therapy animals. "These funds are needed to increase awareness and to get more people involved in such a vital service," Hauser said.

One of Pet Partners of Greater Cincinnati's goals is recruiting more members to ameliorate staff shortages. "We have so many visit requests and sometimes we don't even have enough people to fill them all," Hauser said. "Pet therapy is really blowing up and becoming a bigger deal."

Another of the organization's goals is to expand and promote its work with first responders, such as firefighters and police officers. They also hope to get more involved in school reading programs for struggling readers. "Kids feel less nervous to read to a dog, than to another person, so this program would help them improve their reading skills," Jen Garret, president of the Cincinnati chapter, said.

The more people Pet Partners gets to volunteer, the closer it is to the goal of making a "positive difference in the lives we touch in all the facilities we visit, while we educate the community about the significant value of the human-animal bond."