Animal assisted therapy that’s changing lives in East Texas


As part of our ongoing Subaru Support series, Peltier Subaru in Tyler is shining a spotlight on a non-profit organization each month. For May, we are checking in with Therapet to learn how animal assisted therapy & activities are making a difference in the lives of those who are in need.

Established in 1994, Therapet provides animal assisted therapy (AAT) and animal assisted activities (AAA) by visiting various facilities throughout the area, whether that be hospitals or schools that have people in need of support. There are around 65 dogs, 3 cats, and a cockatoo named Cuddles that make these visits.

“What’s wonderful about animal assisted therapy and visitation is the dogs truly have an intuition about who needs them,” said Executive Director Elysia Reineck. “There have been times where a dog will be walking past a hospital room and just kind of put on the brakes and they sense that something’s going on in there and that they can reach someone.”

The act of petting an animal can cause an automatic relaxation response, which is why when one of the Therapets makes a visit, it can help people relax, help with the therapy they may be going through, with Reineck mentioning, “It kind of tricks the patients into meeting their goals. They’re in a lot of pain. It’s hard to do certain repetitions and meet those goals. But when we bring a dog into the mix, they find that they’re able to exceed their goals.”

Therapet can be seen almost every day of the year serving somewhere in East Texas. They regularly visit U.T. Health & Christus, doing visitations at the East Texas Crisis Center, and visiting special needs children and adults at schools and communities across East Texas.

“I tell people that Therapet is the joy of my life. It is the best thing I’ve ever done, the best volunteer work I’ve ever done,” said Flo Limehouse, volunteer & marketing chair. “We see right there what difference our dog is making in the life of someone who’s gone through a hard time, and I wouldn’t do anything else with my time.”

There are multiple ways to support Therapet as they continue to bring peace and comfort to East Texans. As a non-profit, Therapet does not charge the facilities that they visit, and fully relies on volunteer help and donations. Donations can be made online, and in the honor or memory of a person or animal.

Volunteers, however, can be two-legged or four-legged. Human volunteers are able to help with the visits and events as needed, and those with a four-legged friend are able to be certified and become a bona fide Therapet. All breeds can be certified, with the primary restriction based on temperament of the individual animal.

“We’re training them on how to get on the rehab table. We’re training them to approach a wheelchair. How to walk beside a wheelchair or very slowly beside a walker. How to approach the hospital bed. We encourage anybody to pursue [training],” said Reineck. “Volunteers are the heart of what Therapet does. It wouldn’t exist without them.”

Dogs will have to have their Canine Good Citizens Test (CGC) before they can start the skills class at Therapet. Once obedience training is finished, there is a 7-week class that teaches the necessary skills for volunteers. Finally, there is a temperament test to know that they are ready to go out into the field. You can learn more about certifying your animal here, and for cats & birds, contact Therapet for more information. Reineck left us with, ““It’s a beautiful thing when you can take a pet that’s been rescued from a shelter and turn them into a healing animal. And it’s not just the patients that get healed. It’s the volunteers too.”

A newer option is ‘Therapet 101′ for dogs 10 weeks old and up, where you can have fun and bond with your pup while they’re being introduced to therapy equipment and the training environment. The CGC is not required for this course and is in preparation for the full training later on.

Therapet is open Monday-Friday from 8:30 AM - 5:30 PM. You can visit their website to learn more or contact them here if you have questions.

Visit them on Facebook to keep up with events, or follow them on Instagram and Twitter.

Peltier Subaru Supports is the latest initiative at The East Texas Weekend created to highlight local non-profits around East Texas. Each month we will feature a new organization in our region to highlight their importance within our community. If you have an idea for our next feature, let us know by emailing us here.

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Jade Allen

Jade Allen

Jade Allen explores East Texas to bring the most exciting activities and locations to The East Texas Weekend. Jade came to Texas in 2018, where it has steadily become a home and a place to explore.