In 1994, when the U.S. Army issued a medical/technical bulletin requiring the formation of pet therapy groups throughout the Army, sponsored by the Army Veterinary Corps, no one knew at the time how successful the local Human Animal Bond group would become in the community.

By RIMSIE McCONIGA
rmcconiga@leavenworthtimes.com


In 1994, when the U.S. Army issued a medical/technical bulletin requiring the formation of pet therapy groups throughout the Army, sponsored by the Army Veterinary Corps, no one knew at the time how successful the local Human Animal Bond group would become in the community. And now celebrating their 25-year milestone, the group is proud of the help they have given to community members.
The purpose of the Human Animal Bond program is to promote the enrichment of human lives through a caring partnership with animals.


Few of these programs still exist, but the Fort Leavenworth HAB program is proud to still be going strong.
Ruie Gibson, HAB board member,  joined Human Animal Bond in the summer of 1994 and has been a member since that time with several of her therapy pets.


“I had just purchased a young female Golden Retriever puppy, Molly,” says Ruie. “Pet therapy was something I was interested in and I heard about this group being started by the military. What I like the most is doing volunteer work to help others using my various dogs through the years. My dogs are a huge part of my life.”
HAB began with less than 10 members and their pets. The first location that welcomed the dogs was St. Luke’s Cushing Hospital’s inpatient mental health floor.  


The group was soon welcomed at several schools on Fort Leavenworth in their special education classes.
“Even severely disabled children would react positively to petting a dog, feeling their soft fur,” says Ruie.  “We worked with the Fort Leavenworth Veterinary Corps to host pet safety classes at schools on post and child care facilities annually.  Word spread through the years, which allowed more variety of visits in Leavenworth and then Lansing.  Membership grew as well.  HAB now has approximately 25-30 “teams.”


Members of HAB make therapy pet visits to a variety of locations in the Leavenworth/Fort Leavenworth/Lansing areas.  During about 16 visits per month members visit several schools (classes of various types and ages); long-term care facilities; assisted living homes; Ross Hall (University of Saint Mary); Leavenworth and Lansing libraries; Joint Regional Correctional Facility (Fort Leavenworth); Munson Army Health Clinic; and Eisenhower VA. The group also visits many single events and informational programs throughout the year.


Dogs, cats and domesticated rabbits are welcome to join HAB. After health and temperament evaluations are conducted by members of the Fort Leavenworth Veterinary Corps and health certification is completed (Health re-certification is required on an annual basis),  the animals begin their new lives helping people to de-stress and learn the value of the empathy and companionship the animals generously provide.
“Dogs make up the majority of our animal partners,” says Joy.  “There are some breeds (such as Golden Retrievers and labs) that almost always fit right into this roll.  But, the dogs do not have to be purebred and can be any size.  A calm, loving temperament is paramount. They must love humans, be able to tolerate various environments, different smells and noises, etc.  Our program requires that they be at least 1-year-old, have good leash manners and are well-groomed and clean when going on a HAB visit.”
Joy says that many empirical studies have been done that show pets’ visits to humans of any age can lower blood pressure, heart rate and pulse, diminish pain, stress and anxiety.  “Many times, our handlers are not aware of just how a dog visit has affected a human,” says Joy.  “Often, teachers, nurses, etc. will relate stories of what they have seen occur that has changed in the human during our visits.”


Watching children read to the dogs is one of the most visual aspects of the effects pets can have on people, says Joy.
“These children would not read out loud to anyone at school, but when the dogs visited, they would. This is also true on visits to nursing homes. Residents perk up, smile and interact with a pet when they would not otherwise do so with their caretakers. Many of these men and women had to give up their beloved animals when their health failed, so a visit by a dog, cat or rabbit would make their day.”


HAB held a large celebration event on their 20th anniversary in 2014 and planted a tree in honor of the program at Waggin’ Tails Dog Park in Leavenworth.


To find out more about HAB and what is necessary to join, visit either  the webpage:  ftleavenworthhab.com or Human Animal Bond’s Facebook Page.