Based in Newport Beach, California, Mary Pat Higley is dedicated to volunteering with her Shetland Sheepdog, Tootsie, in the PAWS Pet Therapy Program affiliated with the OCSPCA.
PAWS is a pet assisted program that travels throughout Orange County. These certified volunteers and their dogs spend time at nursing homes, psychiatric hospitals, hospice, and children’s homes. They help bring joy and encouragement to the disabled, bedridden, and neglected.
Since 2013 Mary Pat Higley has had her dog certified. He is able to visit facilities without barking, jumping up on patients, or engaging inappropriately with the other canines. Mary Pat and Tootsie have been involved in the children’s reading program at Minnie Street in Santa Ana. The children enjoy visits from the dogs and the interaction brings incentive for them to visit the reading library and read to the dogs. The children are additionally rewarded for their reading with points that they can cash in for bookmarks, stickers, etc.
Mary Pat and Tootsie also visit nursing homes and mental health hospitals. In her career as a clinical pharmacist Dr Higley worked in these facilities monitoring patient therapies and dispensing medications. This exposure was motivation for her to volunteer in these hospitals as she saw firsthand the isolation and loneliness that can occur for these patients. Some patients seldom receive visitors. Bringing the therapy dogs into the facilities brings a smile to the residents along with affection from the dog and the patients enjoy patting the animals and receiving unconditional love.
Mary Pat Higley finds the program and visits very rewarding. Results may not be miraculous, but subtle, simple smiles greet the therapy dogs, and the visits warm a room where there is sometimes no joy or laughter.
Interestingly the visits are not only uplifting to the patients but the hospital staff also enjoys the interaction and friendliness of the PAWS volunteers and their dogs. It’s been a very rewarding experience.