Therapy dog makes virtual visits during pandemic


In an age of social distancing, one volunteer with the nonprofit TheraPets of Indiana is getting creative to reach out to those in need.

Typically, TheraPets provides animal-assisted therapy and activities in hospitals, assisted living facilities, schools and homes.

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Pearl the therapy dog cuddles with a patient. (Submitted photo)

Volunteer Sarah McQueen and her dog, Pearl, typically visits with seniors, but with the pandemic paralyzing the nation, they have had to make some changes to their routine.

“As an organization, we discontinued our visits several weeks ago because we wanted to make sure we weren’t unintentionally contributing to the spread of COVID-19,” McQueen said. “We have had to make some adjustments. We started sending out photo greeting cards to our friends.”

McQueen also has created videos of Pearl reading books to children.

“I found a way to create a video that looks like Pearl is talking, so she reads a book for the kids,” McQueen said. “Also, we sent out a video to our seniors saying we hope everyone is safe.”

Social distancing can be isolating, especially for those in assisted living facilities.

“We know they’re missing the dogs and their visits,” McQueen said. “So, we’re doing what we can while adhering to the rules and guidelines. Many of these people look forward to seeing the dogs each week.”

TheraPets was founded in 2000 by Darlene Gosnell after she was in a car accident. Her doctor suggested she get a pet, so she got a cairn terrier. The dog, named Molly, provided so much companionship that Gosnell created TheraPets to give others the same type of therapy. The group uses cairn terriers and westies exclusively.

“These two types of dogs are low on the allergenicity scale,” McQueen said. “They’re small enough to sit in a lap but not so big that they’re intimidating.”

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