So, until we have the time to devote to that sort of program, we've decided to go the route we've half-joked about for years: we're getting Charlie certified as a therapy dog. On Saturday morning, our application having been successful earlier in February, Charlie and I arrived at the Armed Forces Retirement Home in Northwest DC for preliminary approval by People Animals Love.
PAL was founded to "leverage the human-animal bond to make the DC metro community a better place," and partners with organizations all over the area to bring pets - primarily dogs as cats can be unpredictable, though other animals are allowed as well - into contact with people who, for whatever reason, can't have their own. The majority of the organizations PAL works with are hospitals, hospices, and nursing homes, but I'm especially enthusiastic about their collaborations with after-school programs and libraries. It's incredibly beneficial for children to read to dogs, who don't judge the children's abilities, and having access to pets maximizes children's natural affinity for animals to stimulate scientific inquiry, improve reading and math, reward good behavior, and cultivate social skills.
Along with a dozen other dogs and their owners, Charlie and I attended an hour-long orientation; proved his ability to sit, lie down, stay, and come; and then mingled for 30 minutes with some of the seniors at the AFRH. He passed the morning's tests with flying colors, and now we have to do two site visits at approved locations for final evaluation and approval. I can't wait to get more fully involved in our community with Charlie!