Animal therapy programs offer companionship and encouragement to students

Julie Romig and her husband, Kevin, are no strangers to the positive benefits of volunteering. The experience was something they wanted to share with members of their family who they said they knew could bring something special to the experience.

"We had done other types of volunteer work, and often mused, 'Oh, [Lazarus] should be here,' or 'Moses would love this,' or 'Magellan could make that person feel so much better,'" Julie said of their three dogs. "It didn't feel right to leave them at home when we would volunteer."

The Romigs took that inspiration from Lazarus, Moses and Magellan and turned it into Pawsitive Energy: Delta Society Pet Partners of San Marcos, a nonprofit group that provides animal-assisted therapy.

"Our mission is to bring animal-assisted activities and therapy to the Greater San Marcos area," said Julie, who is the president of the group. Kevin serves as the secretary. "We help with training scholarships, registration fees, volunteer and facility coordination, and overall support of Delta Registered Pet Partners."

The nonprofit is a part of a national umbrella group, Delta Society, which helps pets and their owners receive insured certifications to interact in a "pet partners" team, consisting of an owner and a pet.

Pawsitive Energy helps offset the costs and makes connections between owners and groups that need therapy animals.

"We wanted to make it easier for people to get connected between schools or nursing homes that [have a need for] them and their dogs—that pet partner team—and defray some of the costs of registering with the Delta Society," Kevin said.

A year and a half after its founding, Pawsitive Energy has established three programs, including animal therapy through nursing home visits and spending time in classes geared toward autistic children.

The largest of the programs, Animal Reading Friends, allows children in first through fourth grades at Travis and Hernandez elementary schools to read with a four-legged friend once a week.

The concept is simple: to provide companionship while students practice reading. The results, however, are far-reaching. According to Pawsitive Energy's analysis of the program after one year, students improved in overall reading levels.

The third-graders, who began the program reading below desired grade level, showed the highest level of improvement and ended the year surpassing grade-level expectations.

"Those are just the tangible successes; there are many, many more," Kevin said. "The dogs provide interaction and unconditional love. "

Julie and Kevin said they would like to expand and always need more volunteers.

"The PetPartners are just that—pets. Your dog doesn't have to be perfect or a service dog," Julie said. "We are volunteers with well-trained and caring dogs."