School PALS – pet therapy for youth at risk

The Cause

The Pet Access League Society (PALS) believes all Calgarians should have access to no cost pet therapy. For over 30 year PALS has been responding to the needs of an ever changing Calgary and the creation of our newest program School PALS is no exception. Designed in response to fill the need of youth at risk in our city who are struggling with the challenge of making healthy choices in today’s ever changing environment, School PALS brings pet therapy into their world as a gentle but powerful influence designed to show them the importance of friendship, positive ways to stop peer pressure and innovative ways to ‘stop and think\'.
School PALS is a program aimed to reached youth primarily in the grade seven age range (12-13 year old) and will be delivered through partnerships and collaboration with schools and afterschool programs. The School PALS program incorporates the use of therapy dogs to communicate key messaging. The participants engage in interactive exercises with the PALS therapy dogs which encourage resiliency training specifically in the areas of friendship/social bonding, “stop and think” decision making, drugs and one’s body, and strategies to cope with peer pressure. The expectation is that the presence of the dogs provide a comfortable setting where children can build a bond with an animal, thereby encouraging confidence and openness in discussing life challenges such as making healthy decisions in relation to drugs and/or other challenges they are facing. This is an important strategy in education where time designations are limited for teaching essential life skills. It is hoped these sessions provide a memorable experience and are influential in leading youth towards healthy development and positive life choices.
School PALS message is designed to fit within the school’s curriculum for grade 7.

Who Will it Benefit?

PALS is available to all Calgarians free of charge. School PALS is directed specifically towards Grade 7 students or age 12/13. In the Calgary schools division of which there are 67 schools (currently) with the Calgary Board of Education and 37 schools (currently) with the Catholic Board of Education. As for After School programs to partner with in Calgary there are many, including: the City of Calgary, Big Brother Big Sister, Boy and Girls Club, Carya, CanLearn, Closer to Home, Families Matter, Linkages, Milligan Ogden Community Association (MOCA), Youth Central, YMCA, Women in Need Resource Centres, and Aspen to name just a few. PALS would be limited only by the number of volunteers who are able to dedicate the time to this program. We are anticipating starting with 2 teams that will visit each week with pre-booked schools or after-school programs starting in September 2016 with the new school year and running straight through to December 2017 as we have found that many programs change from after school to accommodate summer holidays. With this schedule School PALS will be able to touch close to 2000 children.