Paw Pals Combat Social Isolation

  • Rikki Mioduski
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Meet Gracie. Gracie is one of four therapy dogs who recently spread some joy around the Interfaith Community Services (ICS) Northwest Campus as part of an innovative event called Paw Pals. Thanks to new partnerships with the Humane Society of Southern Arizona and the Alliance of Therapy Dogs, ICS is able to address one to the biggest challenges facing seniors; social isolation.

Many participants in ICS Caregiving and Senior Services have no other forms of social support, such as friends or family. In addition, there are few opportunities for them to make new connections with others in a social setting. Add to that an even greater isolation from necessary precautions due to the pandemic. In 2021, 34% of participants that received an ICS Home Re-evaluation stated that they experienced social isolation and had inconsistent forms of social support.

With the help of new partnerships, dedicated volunteers and compassionate staff, ICS has found an opportunity to ease some of that loneliness.

In November 2021, ICS hosted its first Paw Pals event for a select group of Senior Services participants. Four volunteer drivers brought a total of nine participants to our Northwest campus to meet Granite, Grace, Benson, and Lincoln. Not only did they have an opportunity to interact with the therapy dogs, they also had the added benefit of socializing with other participants, handlers and staff. Everyone who attended the event wore masks and were spatially seated to maintain social distancing.

The event was a huge success, equally among senior participants and staff as well.  The participants and volunteers had a lot of fun meeting each other as well as interacting with the therapy dogs. It was wonderful to see how much joy they all got from the experience.

One of Paw Pals participants stated during the event, “I can’t tell you how much this afternoon means to me. It’s been a really hard time for me recently since I lost both my dog and my spouse over the past few years. I’ve been feeling lonely, so it’s nice to be able to get out of the house and see so many happy people and dogs today!”  Another one of the participants stated after the event, “I had such a great time! Everyone was so kind, and it was wonderful that ICS had this type of event. I am excited to attend the next Paw Pals gathering! ”

The event was a new and exciting way for senior participants and volunteers to be present with the therapy dogs and with each other. There is still a high demand for social engagement opportunities from the seniors in Tucson. The Paw Pals event was successful in filling these demands through acts of care, companionship, and compassion.