Therapy Animals of San Antonio and Animal Assisted Crisis Response (CARE)
Therapy Animals of San Antonio (TASA) is an all-volunteer organization established in 1989. Our mission is “Bringing People and Animals Together for Healing.” TASA provides human animal interactions (HAI’s) at no cost to persons in Bexar County, thirteen surrounding counties, Waco and Houston. We recently established the Crisis Animal Response Program (CARE) which serves communities dealing with natural or manmade disasters across Texas. TASA follows stringent national standards for therapy work and crisis response in an unregulated service environment where many organizations fall short. We evaluate teams every two years for appropriate ongoing health, obedience skills, temperament and aptitude. Our priorities are safe, therapeutic interactions with vulnerable populations, client confidentiality and the ethical treatment of our animal partners. Our work includes an ongoing focus on developing related legislative regulations. TASA is an invited and vetted affiliate member of the International Association of Human-Animal Interactions Organizations (IAHAIO), and a Guide Star Exchange Platinum Participant. We are also active in San Antonio VOAD (Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters).
General Therapy Services
TASA services include:
• therapy animal team visitations to healthcare, mental health, and long term care facilities, as well as other vulnerable populations (such as Ronald McDonald Homes, Battered Women’s Shelter, Children’s Bereavement Center, and the Krier Juvenile Correctional Facility)
• community education through presentations for local, state, and national organizations and conferences
• consultation with organizations interested in human animal interactions
• a children’s literacy program in local schools
• support for things like the Children’s Hospice Camp, and the Human Society Summer Camp
• attending de-stressor events
Crisis Response Services
CARE teams work routinely as therapy teams and have also been trained for crisis response. They:
• are certified in FEMA emergency response, and human / animal CPR and first aid
• attend eight hours of classroom education addressing collaboration with first responders and shelter workers, persons responses to disasters, psychological first aid, supporting various stages of crisis intervention, confidentiality, the ethical care of therapy animals in high intensity situations, self-care, and community engagement
• participate in field activities to build hardiness with large crowds, emergency vehicle’s sirens and operational sounds, elevators and multiple surfaces, etc.
In order to accommodate the demand of a large CARE deployment anywhere in Texas, TASA began a collaboration with PAWS for Service, providing CARE training to their interested experienced teams who then work under the TASA CARE umbrella. We also have teams in Austin and Houston for a current total of 43 fully certified CARE teams. We hold training sessions every summer and will also continue to expand participation beyond San Antonio.
This program expands the benefits of HAI’s at two levels. CARE teams partner with local school district counselors responding to critical incidents (the death of a student, teacher, etc.) to provide student counseling immediately proximal to the event. CARE teams deploy across Texas to support communities experiencing crises and disasters such as the school shooting in Uvalde. The presence of a friendly animal supports a sense of physical and emotional safety which facilitates responder and professional support person’s interactions and interventions. Therapy animals also offer safe touch and provide positive engagement opportunities without requiring anything from the survivor.
Benefits of Human Animal Interactions
Enhanced safety and security by:
• Heightening a sense of connection, acceptance and emotional security/safety (animals don’t judge or have preconceived expectations, they relate where the person is at).
• The presence of an animal may change the way a person perceives the physical security/safety of the environment; seeing it as more welcoming and less threatening.
Provide normalcy amidst chaos by:
• Stimulating play in children providing for a chance to work things out or providing some
diversion and relief.
• For many who interact with an animal there is a connection back to memories of other animals we have interacted with in our day to day life.
Arousal responses to trauma may be mitigated by human-animal interactions through:
• lowering blood pressure helps responders and counselors
• decreasing cortisol, levels* /decreasing anxiety communicate and be heard,
• increasing the release of oxytocin** which then may facilitate
• enhancing a sense of safety and well-being assessment and decision making,
• increasing connection with the present moment taking action / act like a bridge to
• potential to break ruminating/repetitive behaviors and between people
by externalizing the person’s focus (here and now);
* Decreasing cortisol has been shown to impact brain functioning; specifically in the amygdala and the hippocampus which has implications for emotional response, memory, learning and decision making (Shin, Rauch & Pitman, 2006).
**Releasing increased levels of oxytocin may increase a person’s trust and empathy and may help modulate hyperarousal, anxiety, and difficulty with interpersonal relationships (Flanagan, Sippel, Wahlquist, Moran-Santa Maria, & Back, 2018).
Providing the basic human need for tactile stimuli and safe touch when close human touch feels
unsafe or unacceptable.
Increasing self-awareness and social / therapeutic interactions because:
• A dog’s behaviors is simple to decode and thus decreases the work of interactions.
• The presence of a dog often supports a willingness to participate in groups and interactions with others enhancing group process.
• Dogs allow non-verbal interactions with no expectations in return which may help persons relax, refocus, and recognize their reactions so that they may begin to deal with them.
Assessment of persons in crisis because:
• Observing individual human-animal interactions may provide assessment information for responders and care givers that help them develop successful interventions.
• Observing group engagement during human animal interactions may provide information for responders and care givers that help them develop successful interventions.
Decreasing trauma related medical treatment because:
• Animal interactions may decrease pain, and, in some cases, decrease the need for pain medication.
• Animal interactions decrease anxiety, blood pressure and cortisol, thus potentially decreasing the need for medical intervention.
Responses to our work are varied, and may be as simple as a visit that brings positive moments to a person’s life through interactions that change the course of a person’s life. Examples of the latter include a child in intensive care who responded for the first time when his hand was placed on a therapy animal settled on his bed; a man with serious cardiac complications who was slowly giving up on recovery when a therapy dog visit gave him the desire to fight for his life; a child in school who learned over time to control his behavior enough in class to participate in studies through motivation to interact with a therapy dog; a family at a Ronald McDonald House who hold onto the memory of seeing their child happily interact with a therapy dog prior to taking her home for hospice care; and a retired pharmacist who waited outside his retirement home each week to interact with a visiting therapy dog away from other residents stating it made him feel connected as he felt he had little in common with his fellow residents.
Support for Uvalde, TX
The evening of the shooting at Robb Elementary School CARE teams responded to the Civic Center in Uvalde, Texas. Barbara Chase, MS, MAC, LPC, Coordinator of Family and Student Support, who coordinated animal therapy support in Uvalde writes:
“Linda Porter-Wenzlaff, Walter Macias, and the teams of the Therapy Animals of San Antonio brought comfort and compassion to the community of Uvalde in May 2022 and for several additional months. The teams came to Uvalde in the capacity of crisis response and spent many hours at the Civic Center on the days following the tragedy at Robb Elementary. They went to other locations around Uvalde where people visited and gathered to be available to people who were struggling and in pain. The teams brought calm and helped ease stress for some individuals impacted by the chaos in our town. The therapy animal teams were especially helpful during summer school and during the first seven days of the 2022 school year. They were present on all our campuses to support our students, teachers, and staff. The teams of dogs, the occasional cat and even a rabbit, would visit classrooms bringing joy and helping people cope. The transition back to school was challenging for some students and staff, and TASA’s presence was a blessing. Teams have been present at other school family functions. The families, students, and staff are always excited to see the TASA teams! We are grateful for the partnership that has been established with TASA.”
Our teams have individual cards for each animal that we distributed during visits in Uvalde so that children could “have their favorite animal with them” when we were not there. Some slept with these cards, others carried them everywhere and they began to collect and trade them like sports cards. It was a moment of fun and normalcy each day and a reminder of the safe, loving acceptance each animal provided for them.
The Children’s Bereavement Center of South Texas has established a satellite in Uvalde. We will provide canine therapy teams there as long as they are needed in collaboration with PAWS for Service. We also remain available to the schools as needed as we continue to bring people and animals together for healing.
Funding and Community Support
CARE compensates its volunteers for their gas and for hotel costs when deployed. We also pay all of the initial costs for certifications, training, and clothing (CARE shirts, dog vests, ID badges, dog tags, and car ID magnets making access to sites easier) for our volunteers. We also carry support equipment and supplies with us and with more complex deployments we have an operations/communication hub supported by two non-dog handling CARE members who provide team support, facilitate scheduling, help with team access to sites, interact with the press, arrange daily debriefings, and other needed assistance to the working teams.
As an all-volunteer organization we rely on fundraising activities and community donations to support our work. For the past 24 years we have organized and run the Fiesta © Pooch Parade which is a dog walk through Alamo Heights combined with a costume contest and various dog related demonstrations. It is great family fun with well over a thousand persons and more dogs. The parade is well supported by sponsors, many of whom are present at the parade. This is our largest fund raiser each year. Information about the parade may be found at: https://therapyanimalssa.org/pooch-parade/ sponsors may be found at: https://therapyanimalssa.org/pooch-parade/sponsors/ and pictures of a past parade are at: https://therapyanimalssa.org/pooch-parade-2022/ . We also participate in The Big Give. Additionally we receive donations from businesses and individuals throughout the year related to deployments, in the memory of individuals or animals, and general donations reflecting donors’ value for our work.
If you are interested in becoming a sponsor please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Donations may be made at: https://therapyanimalssa.org/support-tasa/donations/#donate
Our most significant challenge is the funding required to deploy teams. We are seeking sustaining sponsors that will partner with us to support this meaningful and impactful work.
Therapy Animals of San Antonio website: https://therapyanimalssa.org/
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/therapyanimalsa/
Member since: 2023