It's a quiet morning in the rec room at Catholic Charities' Adult Daycare, where just under a dozen senior citizens sit in a circle, patiently awaiting the arrival of guests. There's always something fun going on here, whether it's a holiday, the celebration of a birthday-one of the women just turned 92!-or a visit from a local musician. Everyone has their favorite holidays, their favorite music, their favorite activities.
But there's one thing that everyone, regardless of age, background or pretty much any other identifying detail, can usually agree on. Puppies.
When the door to the rec room opens and a volunteer from the Nashville Humane Association walks in with Sam, an adorable 10-week-old chocolate lab mix, the crowd lights up. Sam gleefully hops around the room, nudging people's shoes or playfully tugging at the blankets on their laps. When a staffer locates a tennis ball, everyone takes turns rolling and tossing the ball back and forth.
The Pet Visitation Program is one of many ways that the Nashville Humane Association engages with the community, and it's one of the ways you can volunteer your time and energy with one of Nashville's oldest service organizations. With roots tracing back to 1887, the NHA was officially established in 1946 to protect the well-being of animals in Davidson County.
Each year, the NHA places more than 3,300 animals into loving homes, and their work extends to showing residents of Davidson County the many responsibilities of pet ownership. You've likely seen the ROVER bus that travels throughout the county providing free spay/neuter services for pets whose owners can't afford it, which is one of the many ways the NHA both educates and provides services for individuals-and their furry friends-throughout Nashville.
The NHA depends upon volunteers for the success of these programs. Your level of involvement can be as simple as helping out with tasks at the NHA facility in west Nashville-to quote a staffer, everyone picks up poop-or as involved as fostering pets until they can find their forever homes. Since 2008, the NHA has offered the Community Pet Food Bank, a volunteer-run initiative that assists those who cannot afford food and supplies for their pets. NHA's educational summer programs for children work with area organizations such as the Nashville Zoo, Nashville K-9 and Walden's Puddle. Our Nfocus team sat in on the NHA's popular Pet Visitation Program, which brings puppies to engage with people in area nursing homes, assisted living facilities, recovery centers and schools. Following our visit to Adult Daycare, we headed next door to Mary, Queen of Angels, an assisted living facility, so Sam could continue to spread joy to residents there.
Like all volunteer opportunities at NHA, anyone who wishes to help must attend a brief orientation session. If you're looking for a fun activity for your office staff, church group or book club, groups up to 15 can be accommodated. The Pet Visitation Program requires that volunteers take additional orientation sessions at NHA to ensure proper handling techniques and the safety of humans and animals. The puppies also go through a sort of "training" process; after arriving at the facility, it takes 10 days for shots, spaying/neutering and temperament tests, at which point they're ready for adoption.
Before we take Sam out of the NHA facility, staffers and a volunteer play with him, letting him run around the room a bit so he isn't too wound up. When we arrive at the daycare facility, he behaves exactly as a model puppy should, playing with anything and everyone, prompting a staffer to remark, "He won't last long at the shelter-someone's going to snap him up!" (Sam actually went up for adoption the following day and was adopted two days later.)
Though there's research showing that relationships with animals can have a positive impact on health-both mental and physical-you may be wondering what kind of impact this program could have. After all, it's just a couple of hours out of a week; we went over what could have been an early, extended lunch break.
But if there's one thing we know in our community, it's that every little bit of kindness has an impact, even a ripple effect. And as for the NHA's role, most people have a fond memory of a pet, whether it was a best friend from childhood or a wedding present from a beloved spouse. Sam certainly conjured memories in the minds of the individuals at the daycare and Mary, Queen of Angels; you could read it on their faces. When speaking with one of the program's volunteers, she reinforced the importance of the Pet Visitation Program. In addition to giving residents and daycare participants a reason to "dress up" for the occasion, it gives them something to look forward to.
If you're interested in volunteering at the NHA, visit nashvillehumane.org for more information.