Volunteerism Spotlight: Paws for Love

Since 2017, StaffBuffalo Recruiter Anne Coughlin and her therapy dog Anya have been volunteering with the SPCA program Paws for Love. They visit various locations in the WNY area, including libraries and colleges, to bring joy and stress relief to individuals in the community.

“I love being a part of the Paws for Love program because I get to share my dog with other people who need a nonjudgmental visit. It’s amazing to see the difference it makes in their day!”

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How did you get the idea to train Anya as a therapy dog? What was the process like?

  • I completed the Canine Good Citizen (CGC) test with Anya, part of which is leaving your dog with someone for a few minutes to see how they deal without you. When I returned, Anya was loving the attention, and the testers suggested trying Therapy work!

  • To start with Paws for Love at the SPCA Serving Erie County, I had to participate in a volunteer orientation and take Anya for a therapy dog evaluation. The evaluation included obedience work (such as sit, lay down, stay, leaving food on the ground, and walking politely on a leash) and temperament evaluation (how does she respond to a loud noise?, can a stranger touch her ears/feet/tail?, what does she do if someone bumps into her from behind?) Once we had passed the therapy dog evaluation, we were able to start visitations!

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Why is volunteering important to you?

  • We all need a little extra support sometimes! Being able to provide that support, whether it’s to college students that are away from home, kids that are learning to read, or individuals that need extra care at nursing homes, is wonderful. I’ve benefited from therapy dogs myself, so I know how much of a difference it can make. For example, when I was away at college, the school library had about 7 therapy dogs visit during exam week, which was fantastic when I was stressed!

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What has been your favorite moment so far with Paws for Love?

  • During one of our library visits, there was a boy that came with his mom that was very shy and wouldn’t speak. He sat down with me and Anya, and his mom was very upset that he was struggling with reading but wouldn’t try with her around. So she left the room to give him space and Anya immediately laid down beside him. I promised that only Anya would listen, and, after a few minutes, he started to read his book quietly. Anya whined a bit, and when I told him it was because she couldn’t hear him, he read louder. It was amazing to see the change over 15 minutes and to know that it was because of my dog that he was trying (and succeeding)!