JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — On a sunny day outside The Mayo Clinic, Elvis is doing what he does best.
"It is an easy job to put smiles on people’s faces," tells Elvis' owner Hanna Habashi as she looks down at her golden-doodle.
They are a pet therapy team and volunteers with The Mayo Clinic's Caring Canines. It’s a task perfect for Elvis’s joyful and goofy personality, but it takes more than just a sweet disposition to be a therapy dog.
Mary Harvey with the Therapy Animal Coalition says it is just as important that the animals are well trained.
"They can do the basic commands of sit and stay and walk well on a leash and not jump up on people, Harvey explains. "Those kinds of things."
It doesn’t just have to be a dog. They’ve had cats, mini horses, mini pigs and even llamas technically qualify.
Finding the right place to volunteer is also crucial for a team. While hospitals and nursing homes are often the go to's for therapy animals, there are a lot of different options. Therapy animals are needed for children to read to in schools, reducing stress at the airport, helping people grieve and easing stress in the courthouse.
"Especially young people who have to testify in court, they will feel a lot more comfortable with a dog or cat in their lap," tells Harvey.
The steps to becoming a therapy animal and the volunteer placements are all apart of the Therapy Animal Expo happening this Saturday at the University of North Florida.
"One of the things we have at the expo are exhibitors and lots of exhibitors are programs where you can go volunteer, so you can talk to individuals about their volunteer programs and get a feel for what is right for you," tells Harvey.
And right for your animal.
Harvey says Elvis always had a natural love of people and being able to bring joy to patients, nurses and doctors is what they were meant to do!
"You can see the stress disappear from someone's body and their face and he really really interacts with the people. He knows what he is doing making someone feel better," says Habashi.
If you want to check out the Therapy Animal Expo, it is this Saturday, March 7 at the Herbert University Center at UNF. It does cost $20 and that includes breakfast and lunch. The link to register is here.