This is part of WTOP’s continuing coverage of people making a difference from our community authored by Stephanie Gaines-Bryant. Read more of that coverage.
The holiday season may not be the most wonderful time of the year for college students cramming for finals and preparing to go home for winter break.
Executive Director of Pets On Wheels Gina Kazime says over the years she’s seen “miracles” happen with all types of people, including young people and veterans, simply from the “act of touching a pet.” That’s why Pets on Wheels will be visiting the University of Maryland, College Park this week with a variety of animals for destress events.
“Animals are the perfect bridge … because they have zero judgment, zero concerns about if you’re getting an ‘A’ in your class or you’re failing,” Kazimer says. “Animals don’t care. They just want to be with you,”
She says the Pets on Wheels trained therapy pets know when someone is stressed.
“They will make a B line to someone who is in stress and may not even realize it, and just stand there and make themselves available,” Kazimer says. She added that it’s the animal equivalent of, “holding space — making sure that someone knows that there is care.”
Kazimer says that, unlike many pet therapy organizations, Pets On Wheels is “breed and species agnostic”. That means, she says, it’s not just cats and dogs — if the pet is legal to keep in the state of Maryland, and passes health requirements and temperament screening tests, the animal can become part of the program.
She says 5% of Pets on Wheels animals are “exotics” like alpacas, miniature horses, rabbits, harlequin macaws, parrots and guinea pigs.
The organization was started by a doctor in 1982 who thought his senior patients would benefit from seeing and interacting with pets, Kazimer told WTOP. It began with four teams who visited several places.
Today, Kazimer says, it has over 400 teams visiting, hospitals, schools and senior centers.
Pets on Wheels also has a “Paws to Read” program in libraries throughout Maryland that opens up a different way of learning for children who can read out loud to the animals — research has shown that reading out loud to dogs regularly can improve literacy.
Students can take a destress study break at the University of Maryland, College Park beginning Monday, Dec. 11, with Lambda Theta Alpha in the Stamp Room from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. On Tuesday, Dec. 12, they will move to the Alpha Chi Omega Chapter room from 12:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.
More information on the organization is available at PetsOnWheels.org.