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We improve the lives of people with the help of dogs.
Patchogue Rotary Animal Assistance Teams (PRAAT) was formed in 1993 by Dr. Dave Hensen, DVM, DABVP in
cooperation with the Patchogue Rotary Club. PRAAT’s philosophy is "to involve regular people and their dogs with a
program that facilitates the interaction of people and dogs to enhance the lives of everyone." Through a unique model
that supports and assists the volunteers, PRAAT is able to serve 33 facilities
throughout Suffolk County, New York.
There are many Animal Assisted Activity (AAA) organizations in the United States.
PRAAT is set apart by its centralized structure, which allows for continued oversight
and support of volunteers. Potential handler-dog teams are screened through a
process that is unique to PRAAT. Dogs are assessed for temperament and physical
factors that might detract from their ability to be an effective therapy dog. The dogs
are played with, to make sure they are friendly, and then surprised with a loud noise
to assess their reaction. Many dogs will run to their owners in order to hide. These "Velcro dogs," while they can be
perfectly wonderful pets, are not well-suited to AAA, because they will be entering facilities where loud noises and
unexpected situations might be commonplace. Dogs that are oblivious to shocking situations, or rebound very quickly,
tend to do well in therapy situations.
Another factor that differentiates PRAAT from other organizations is the training. Each handler-dog team is
required to undergo a ten-week training course that teaches basic obedience, and exposes the handlers and dogs to
objects they might encounter on a therapy visit, such as wheelchairs, walkers, and
other medical equipment. The final three training sessions are held in a nursing
home or other facility, where the dogs and humans can get acclimated to a typical
AAA environment and the dog’s behavior can be assessed. There is also a
mandatory class on disability etiquette, which is unique to PRAAT.
Once the training is complete, PRAAT’s involvement does not end. Many
AAA organizations do not assist in scheduling visits; the volunteers have to contact
facilities on their own. PRAAT does the administrative work, so that the handlers can focus on their visits. PRAAT also
carries liability insurance, so that handlers and facilities are protected in the unlikely event that something goes wrong.
Finally, PRAAT maintains contact with the volunteers and the locations they visit, to ensure that everyone is satisfied and
This team approach to Animal Assisted Activity has helped to grow PRAAT into a thriving organization with 47
dedicated handler-dog teams, making almost 100 visits per month. Recent efforts have focused on expanding services
into new areas, and recruiting additional volunteers. PRAAT’s growth will enable more people and communities to
benefit from Animal Assisted Activity.
- PRAAT Intern
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