By Emily Bialkowski
There are literally millions of dogs, cats and other companion animals residing in the state of Minnesota. According to one animal rights organization, there are approximately 1,328,040 dogs owned by households in Minnesota and 1,496,880 cats. These numbers do not include breeding facilitites, shelters, animal pounds or strays.
Clearly we humans value something our animal companions offer. But life sometimes presents situations where people can’t own a pet. The void left by a lack of furry face time is trying to be filled by a nonprofit group out of La Crescent who offers animal assisted activities in Houston County.
Touching Moments was founded in 2010 and is made possible, in part, by a partnership with La Crescent Area Healthy Community Partnership Group, www.lacrescenthcp.org.
Touching Moments offers animal assisted activities to nursing homes, assisted living facilities, foster homes, youth groups, daycare programs, preschools, disabled individuals and hospitals.
Volunteers bring their animals to various facilitites and let participants pet, talk to and visit with a furry friend. The effects of such a visit are quite therapeutic.
“The animal visits bring a calming effect to the recipients – lowering their blood pressure and heart rate. It is also very stimulating – jogging their memories and encouraging involvement,” Shelley Ellingson, a Touching Moments founder, said.
The concept of creating such an organization actually began out of a confirmation project Ellingson’s
daughter had to undertake.
“We were assigned as a family to conduct an act of kindness that involved the community. I had read about the benefits of animal assisted activities and thought some of the residents at Golden Living Health Care Center in La Crescent would enjoy a visit from one of our very affectionate cats, Noah, so we scheduled a visit and it was very well received and we were asked to come back. The program blossomed after that as I told friends about it and they became interested in participating,” Ellingson said.
Touching Moments currently has seven active animal/handler teams that pay regular visits to area health care facilities in La Crescent, Caledonia and Spring Grove. They are always accepting new teams, and any type of animal is welcome.
“We had at one time not only dogs and cats but a bunny, ferret and guinea pig in the program. Of coarse the mini horse visits are a big hit, too,” Ellingson said.
All animal participants must be in good health, well groomed and up to date on vaccinations.
Tammy Luoma has partnered with her dog Maggie in the program since its inception. They recently visited an ABLE home in La Crescent.
“My visit to the ABLE home in La Crescent with Maggie went very well. Most of these residents are non-verbal and have significant mobility conditions… Even though they were non-verbal some of the residents lit up with Maggie. They were just so excited to see a dog and interact,” Luoma said.
In addition to visits with people with varying abilities and nursing homes, Touching Moments works at local libraries and brings Reading Education Assistance Dogs to children.
“The program offers kids the opportunity to improve their reading skills using dog participants as companions,” Ellingson said.
When dog participants are listening, kids can relax and gain fluency as a reader while building confidence and self esteem.
Building off the success of their existing programs, Touching Moments is currently implementing a therapeutic riding center – Equine Assisted Activities – which will offer its recipients the opportunity to enhance their emotional, physical and psychological development through the use of a horse.
The group received a $4,000 United Way Venture Grant to assist in purchasing special equipment for the future riding center, such as suricingles, helmets, special stirrups and saddles for the program riders. They are also using dollars from fundraisers to construct a sturdy, safe mounting ramp so riders can easily access the horse during lessons. The pilot program is on course to launch in the fall of 2013.
“Our volunteers and animal ambassadors are dedicated to producing lasting memories,” Ellingson said.
To learn more about Touching Moments visit www.touchmoments.org.