While the social distancing guidelines in place during the COVID-19 outbreak have impacted us all, the lack of social interaction has had an even greater impact on the senior citizens in our communities. New York-based Animal Farm Foundation has created a program called “Pets Together” and uses Zoom to create heart-warming animal experiences for senior citizens in an effort to fight the negative effects of social isolation.
Stacey Coleman, Animal Farm Foundation’s Executive Director, shared how her organization created the program, how Zoom helps make these interactions possible, and the impact the program has had on senior citizens across the country.
What is Animal Farm Foundation, and what does the organization do?
“Animal Farm Foundation is a nonprofit organization, and our mission is to bring dogs and people together to end discrimination against dogs, specifically against dogs labeled as ‘pitbulls.’ We go to shelters that have pitbulls that have a real interest in working and a strong focus on people and train them to be service dogs. Once those dogs are trained, we donate them at no cost to people who are in need of a service animal. We also have a certified canine narcotics detection program where the dogs are trained to become detection dogs, which are also donated to police departments and schools at no cost.”
How did the Pets Together program get started?
“Pets Together is a free virtual program that allows those who are socially isolated, such as older adults, due to the COVID-19 pandemic to enjoy friendly interaction with pets and people. We have lots of critters, such as goats, geese, dogs, and cats, at our animal sanctuary farm where we are headquartered, and when we realized that these people needed companionship in these long-term care facilities, it seemed like a natural fit to bring them together.”
How do you set up these Pets Together experiences?
“We have our own site, PetsTogether.org, and the assisted-living facility or group home can go to our site and sign up for a date and time. Each call has a host from the facility that will facilitate the initial communication and introduces the people we’re visiting with. We want to create an experience that resonates with the people we’re visiting with, so the host gathers some information about them before the call. They’ll ask questions like, ‘Have you ever lived on a farm?’ or ‘Do you like cats or dogs better?’ Anything to help us create a better experience.”
Why did you choose to offer Pets Together’s experiences on Zoom?
“Zoom is really accessible; everyone can use it at some level. And more importantly, it’s easy for me to manage these programs. If there’s ever an issue, I can troubleshoot for the care facilities on the other end who may not have used Zoom before. I can talk them through it on whatever device they are using. While some video conferencing solutions are less reliable than others, we haven’t had even one minute of trouble using Zoom.”
How does the interaction work?
“The host holds the meeting on a laptop so they can control the video feeds; when something interesting happens with one of our pet participants, the host can cut directly to that feed to direct everyone’s attention to it. Our attendees usually connect on a tablet, phone, or laptop, but the care facility can also set up a camera and monitor in the Activity Center so everyone can watch and interact with us at the same time.”
What kind of impact do your programs have on seniors in assisted-living facilities?
“There’s never a formula for how these calls go, but our goal is to break up the monotony of the isolation and reduce some of that loneliness and stress. For example, we had a visit with a woman who loved birds. She would sneak out of her room in the morning and go sit in the lobby so she could sing to the birds in her facility. So on our call with her, she decided that she wanted to sing to our animals, and that was the whole call. I’d also like to think we make the caregivers’ jobs easier. They get insights into their residents’ lives that they wouldn’t have gotten otherwise, and when we watch them interact with their residents on the call, I know we’re making a difference.”
To learn more about Pets Together and to schedule an online visit with their pet participants, go to PetsTogether.org. To learn more about using Zoom for your organization, schedule a personalized demo with a Zoom product specialist today!