In the Canine Comfort program, dogs go with their handlers to visit people in battered women's shelters, the veterans hospital, senior housing, and at Alzheimer's and other long-term care facilities.
"Just a small amount of interaction increases their spirits and their health," said VHS Executive Director Melanie Sadek. "Alzheimer's patients sometimes start talking about the dogs they had when they were little."
Valley Humane Society in Pleasanton is recognized and admired for the care it gives animals while looking for their forever homes. Perhaps less well-known are the programs it runs to enrich people's lives with animals.
The Canine Comfort Pet Therapy teams are certified through VHS but its involvement doesn't stop there.
"We cover them for all their liability insurance, they report their hours, tell us where they've been, we supply the vests and do everything," explained Sadek. "It's an incredible partnership."
Its pet therapy teams also work with Paws to Read programs at six libraries in the Tri-Valley including Pleasanton's, which was the first to partner pooches with children learning to read.
"The dogs are non-judgmental reading partners," Sedak noted.
VHS also works with Hope Hospice on two programs, a pet grief support group, and caring for the pet of a person who is receiving end of life help.
"When someone goes into Hospice care, if they don't have relatives to care for their pet, we have volunteers who go into their home," Sedak said.
After they die, if no one in family can take the pet, VHS brings them into its system and adopts them out.
"We've been doing this for quite awhile," Sedak said. "Our last case was a golden retriever. We went in and walked the dog every day."
VHS also has a food program to make sure that people undergoing financial hardship are able to feed their pets.
"Last year we distributed more than 20,000 pounds of food," Sedak said. "We partner with food pantries that serve the low-income."
This helps people keep their loving pets, which is good for them -- and good for shelters. The food is donated by individuals as well as Safeway, Pet Food Express, Murphy's Paw and other outlets.
Valley Humane Society also partners with Meals on Wheels, giving the drivers food for clients' pets.
"We found that they would feed animals part of their meal," Sedak said. "You can imagine how important this program is if you have seen a dog eat yellow curry chicken."
Since the meals are portioned based on a person's health needs and dietary requirements, it is important that the food not be shared, she added.
Donations to the Pleasanton Weekly Holiday Fund will help pay for these valuable program of the Valley Humane Society, which has an annual budget of $550,000. Except for the Maddie's Fund Adopt-athon in June, which yielded $63,000 for VHS, it raises its own money with its Hidden Gardens of the Valley Tour each spring, and Paws in the Park, a pledge-driven dog walk, in the fall.
Valley Humane Society finds homes for every pet it takes in. A few stay a long time. Some develop health problems, which can be a big expense.
"We had a cat named Joey whose front leg needed to be amputated; that was $3,300 for one animal," Sedak said.
Another needed thyroid and radiation treatment. When a schnauzer had to get a titanium plate recently, they held a special fundraiser.
As Christmas approaches, the cheery facility in Pleasanton is busy with people wanting to adopt dogs and cats.
"We do our best to try to get as many animals as we can into new homes for the holidays," Sedak said last week. "Right now we're probably at about 55 to 60. And my veterinarian technician came in to tell me that municipal shelters are calling -- they're impacted like crazy by dogs. The have two to three to a kennel. We've got to get those dogs new homes."
"It's a myth that you shouldn't adopt during the holidays," she added. "A survey just came out last year that said 60% of animals were a gift. If parents want to come in and get a puppy for their child for Christmas, they are the primary caregivers, there is no difference."
Last week Sedak was waiting for 10 puppies from Tri-City Animal Shelter in Fremont. The state does not require a holding period for those under 8 weeks old without mothers so they can be euthanized immediately, she explained, and volunteers will bottle feed very young puppies and kittens. Such animals are susceptible to illness, which wreaks havoc with her budget.
"We really rely on the community for volunteers and for donations," she said. "We have fosters and about 500 volunteers. Over 120 of those are pet therapy volunteers. The rest all volunteer in some capacity in the shelter. It is the power of volunteers that keeps the shelter running -- their dedication is unbelievable."
For more information about Valley Humane Society, visit www.valleyhumanesociety.org, telephone 426-8656 or drop in at 3670 Nevada St. Meanwhile, make a donation to the Holiday Fund.