Why paws and whiskers can be the best therapy for people in need of TLC.
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State Farm

It was Christmas 1994 when Scarlet Ross and her 10-year-old son went to get photos of their cat and dog with Santa.

Getting a dog — let alone a cat — to cooperate for such a photo op might be tough.

Not for these pets. Neither one seemed fazed by being held by a bearded stranger in a bright red suit.


Scarlet's dog, Tyler, with Santa. Image via Scarlet Ross, used with permission.

Amazed by their calmness, someone approached Scarlet and asked her if she would be interested in getting her animals involved with a new animal therapy group: the Human Animal Bond (HAB).

After all, the stranger explained, if her animals were so even-tempered with Santa, they’d probably make great therapy animals.

Scarlet was immediately intrigued.

She decided to leave the cat at home, but she took her sheltie to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, to see if he was a good fit. He passed with flying colors, and "That’s just how I got involved," she says. She remains a volunteer with HAB to this day.

Scarlet and Tyler visiting a nursing home resident 20 years ago. Image via Scarlet Ross, used with permission.

The volunteer-run organization was started by the U.S. Military Veterinary Services because they know how strong the bond between humans and animals can be.

The military veterinary services "felt that animals had a particular benefit to army families because of all the moving," explains Ruie Gibson, a long-time HAB board member and volunteer.

Snickers, a greyhound HAB therapy dog, at HAB's annual picnic. Image by Tammy Patton, used with permission.

Not to be confused with service dogs, therapy dogs can provide comfort and support to those who need it. And there is science to back it up.

Psychologists, psychiatrists, and doctors have used, and continue to use, therapy dogs with patients because they have found they can help reduce feelings of depression.

Studies have also shown that simply petting dogs can help lower people’s heart rates and reduce stress and anxiety.

The military wrote a regulation, and the animal therapy group Human Animal Bond was born to help provide this service to those in need of comfort and support.

Families that are interested in being a part of HAB can sign up their dogs, cats, and even rabbits to be therapy pets.

HAB volunteer Erika Chester and her cat, Mia. Image via HAB, used with permission.

If these animals pass the temperament test, they can join the HAB network with their family.

"I would say that 99% of the time, the people who come to us and who want to do this, or think that their pet would be good at this, pass the temperament test no problem," Ruie says. "They wouldn’t even consider it if they didn’t think their dog would like it."

Once they’re members, the families take a special training session once a year — which, Ruie says, is actually more for the owners than the dogs.

After that, the volunteers and their therapy pets sign up for and attend as many HAB events as they can with their schedules.

Two volunteers and their HAB therapy dogs at the annual Veterans Day Parade. Image via HAB, used with permission.

Sometimes the HAB therapy pets go to schools and libraries to meet students.

They even help kids who are having trouble reading practice doing it aloud.

Cobalt, a beagle mix, visits a teacher and her classroom in Leavenworth. Image via HAB, used with permission.

Other times, the pets visit nursing homes, elderly care facilities, or rehab facilities.

Goose, an HAB therapy dog, visiting a rehab facility.  Image via HAB, used with permission.

They also go to a minimum security correctional facility on the military base to visit nonviolent offenders.

"That’s a very popular program," Ruie says, adding that there is always a waiting list of inmates wanting to see the dogs.

Scarlet has now been an active volunteer with HAB for the last 23 years and has had several of her dogs join the program.

"It is very important to me," she says. "It’s very rewarding to see the joy of it."

"A couple of years ago, I had a dog that was blind, deaf, and incontinent, and we would go to the nursing home and talk about that," Scarlet remembers.

Scarlet's dog Aunt Bea was a regular visitor at the local nursing home. Image via Scarlet Ross, used with permission.

This dog, named Aunt Bea, was 12 or 13 when Scarlet adopted her, and she was also missing her teeth. When she went to the nursing home to visit, Aunt Bea "had to wear her Depends," Scarlet continues, but "many of the residents related to her health condition. ... They really enjoyed meeting her."

Today, Scarlet's two dogs — a rescued golden retriever named Josie and a wild-haired shih tzu named Phyllis Diller — are both in the program.

Scarlet and Josie, an HAB therapy dog. Image via Scarlet Ross, used with permission.

"I love sharing my animals with these people that have had animals in the past and can’t have them now," she says. "They get to hug them, they pet them, and I take photos of them with my pet and give it to them so they can have it."

That's why she particularly loves visiting the nursing homes with her dogs.

Tyler with a nursing home resident at Christmas. Image via Scarlet Ross, used with permission.

"So many need a special touch or hug that they used to get," she says.

Being involved with HAB has also helped make Scarlet feel closer to her animals too.

"I love all of my dogs, however, with my therapy dogs there is a special bond and closeness," she explains. "When you work with them like that, that’s a special connection."  

Scarlet's shih tzu, Phyllis Diller, is also a hit at senior facilities because her crazy hair makes them laugh. Image via Scarlet Ross, used with permission.

Whether it's visiting the elderly or helping kids practice reading, it's clear that HAB has been making a difference in people’s lives.

All animal lovers understand the joy their pets can bring. But sharing that joy is a step beyond.

HAB therapy dogs and member families at their 2017 annual picnic. Image via Tammy Patton, used with permission.

All it takes is one visit at a school or nursing home to know your therapy dog is making a difference, Ruie says. "Sometimes they might not even want to touch the dog, but just being in the presence, it’s amazing what a difference it can make."

HAB dog Zorro and Maj. D. Thomas at the Munson Army Health Center. Image via HAB, used with permission.

"You might not know that it raises someone’s mood right away, but after you talk to a nurse, you find out that this patient hadn’t talked all day until they saw the dog."

"It’s amazing the things that do happen in their presence," she adds, "I don’t know how long it stays that way, but at least for a short time, they feel better."

If you think your pet would make a good therapy pet and you live in the Fort Leavenworth area, check out their website for ways to get involved as a volunteer.

Courtesy of Farwiza Farhan
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Growing up in Indonesia, Farwiza Farhan always loved the ocean. It's why she decided to study marine biology. But the more she learned, the more she realized that it wasn't enough to work in the ocean. She needed to protect it.

"I see the ocean ecosystem collapsing due to overfishing and climate change," she says. "I felt powerless and didn't know what to do [so] I decided to pursue my master's in environmental management."

This choice led her to work in environmental protection, and it was fate that brought her back home to the Leuser Ecosystem in Sumatra, Indonesia — one of the last places on earth where species such as tigers, orangutans, elephants and Sumatran rhinoceros still live in the wild today. It's also home to over 300 species of birds, eight of which are endemic to the region.

"When I first flew over the Leuser Ecosystem, I saw an intact landscape, a contiguous block of lush, diverse vegetation stretched through hills and valleys. The Leuser is truly a majestic landscape — one of a kind."

She fell in love. "I had my first orangutan encounter in the Leuser Ecosystem," she remembers. "As the baby orangutan swung from the branches, seemingly playing and having fun, the mother was observing us. I was moved by the experience."

Courtesy of Farwiza Farhan

"Over the years," she continues, "the encounters with wildlife, with people, and with the ecosystem itself compounded. My curiosity and interest towards nature have turned into a deep desire to protect this biodiversity."

So, she began working for a government agency tasked to protect it. After the agency dismantled for political reasons in the country, Farhan decided to create the HAkA Foundation.

"The goals [of HAkA] are to protect, conserve and restore the Leuser Ecosystem while at the same time catalyzing and enabling just economic prosperity for the region," she says.

"Wild areas and wild places are rare these days," she continues. "We think gold and diamonds are rare and therefore valuable assets, but wild places and forests, like the Leuser Ecosystems, are the kind of natural assets that essentially provide us with life-sustaining services."

"The rivers that flow through the forest of the Leuser Ecosystem are not too dissimilar to the blood that flows through our veins. It might sound extreme, but tell me — can anyone live without water?"

Courtesy of Farwiza Farhan

So far, HAkA has done a lot of work to protect the region. The organization played a key role in strengthening laws that bring the palm oil companies that burn forests to justice. In fact, their involvement led to an unprecedented, first-of-its-kind court decision that fined one company close to $26 million.

In addition, HAkA helped thwart destructive infrastructure plans that would have damaged critical habitat for the Sumatran elephants and rhinos. They're working to prevent mining destruction by helping communities develop alternative livelihoods that don't damage the forests. They've also trained hundreds of police and government rangers to monitor deforestation, helping to establish the first women ranger teams in the region.

"We have supported multiple villages to create local regulation on river and land protection, effectively empowering communities to regain ownership over their environment."

She is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year. The donation she receives as a nominee is being awarded to the Ecosystem Impact Foundation. The small local foundation is working to protect some of the last remaining habitats of the critically endangered leatherback turtle that lives on the west coast of Sumatra.

"The funds will help the organization keep their ranger employed so they can continue protecting the islands, endangered birds and sea turtle habitats," she says.

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen. Do you know an inspiring woman like Farwiza? Nominate her today!

Jennifer Lawrence

After being a Hollywood staple, Jennifer Lawrence vanished from the public eye following the release of "X-Men Dark Phoenix" in 2019.

Sure, the pandemic had something to do with that … in addition to the usual way our society treats Hollywood "it" girls, once it grows accustomed to the flavor. But in a recent interview with Vanity Fair, Lawrence opens up about some other reasons she chose to step away for a time.

Lawrence went from being a highly sought-after Oscar-winning actress to starring in less-than-successful films like "Passengers," "Mother!" and "Red Sparrow." The films were not only poorly received among critics, but commercially as well.

"I was not pumping out the quality that I should have," she told VF. "I just think everybody had gotten sick of me. I'd gotten sick of me. It had just gotten to a point where I couldn't do anything right. If I walked a red carpet, it was, 'Why didn't she run?'"

So then, why do it? As any workaholic would know, it's about so much more than money.

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Courtesy of Ms. Lopez
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Marcella Lopez didn't always want to be a teacher — but once she became one, she found her passion. That's why she's stayed in the profession for 23 years, spending the past 16 at her current school in Los Angeles, where she mostly teaches children of color.

"I wanted purpose, to give back, to live a life of public service, to light the spark in others to think critically and to be kind human beings," she says. "More importantly, I wanted my students to see themselves when they saw me, to believe they could do it too."

Ms. Lopez didn't encounter a teacher of color until college. "That moment was life-changing for me," she recalls. "It was the first time I felt comfortable in my own skin as a student. Always remembering how I felt in that college class many years ago has kept me grounded year after year."

It's also guided her teaching. Ms. Lopez says she always selects authors and characters that represent her students and celebrate other ethnicities so students can relate to what they read while also learning about other cultures.

"I want them to see themselves in the books they read, respect those that may not look like them and realize they may have lots in common with [other cultures] they read about," she says.

She also wants her students to have a different experience in school than she did.

When Ms. Lopez was in first grade, she "was speaking in Spanish to a new student, showing her where the restroom was when a staff member overheard our conversation and directed me to not speak in Spanish," she recalls. "In 'this school,' we only speak English," she remembers them saying. "From that day forward, I was made to feel less-than and embarrassed to speak the language of my family, my ancestors; the language I learned to speak first."

Part of her job, she says, is to find new ways to promote acceptance and inclusion in her classroom.

"The worldwide movement around social justice following the death of George Floyd amplified my duty as a teacher to learn how to discuss racial equity in a way that made sense to my little learners," she says. "It ignited me to help them see themselves in a positive light, to make our classroom family feel more inclusive, and make our classroom a safe place to have authentic conversations."

One way she did that was by raising money through DonorsChoose to purchase books and other materials for her classroom that feature diverse perspectives.

Courtesy of Ms. Lopez

The Allstate Foundation recently partnered with DonorsChoose to create a Racial Justice and Representation category to encourage teachers like Ms. Lopez to create projects that address racial equity in the classroom. To launch the category, The Allstate Foundation matched all donations to these projects for a total of $1.5 million. Together, they hope to drive awareness and funding to projects that bring diversity, inclusion, and identity-affirming learning materials into classrooms across the country. You can see current projects seeking funding here.

When Ms. Lopez wanted to incorporate inclusive coloring books into her lesson plans, The Allstate Foundation fully funded her project so she was able to purchase them.

"I'm a lifelong learner, striving to be my best version of myself and always working to inspire my little learners to do the same," she says. Each week, Ms. Lopez and the students would focus on a page in the book and discuss its message. And she plans to do the same again this school year.

"DonorsChoose has been a gamechanger for my students. Without the support of all the donors that come together on this platform, we wouldn't have a sliver of what I've been able to provide for my students, especially during the pandemic," she says.

"My passion is to continue striving to be excellent, and to continue to find ways to use literature as an anchor, depicting images that reflect my students," she says.

To help teachers like Ms. Lopez drive this important mission forward, donate on DonorsChoose.

Courtesy of Ms. Lopez

Looking for some good gift ideas that wont break the bank? We've got you covered with these five suggestions available at our very own Upworthy Market! You can feel good about your purchases, too. That's because every item you buy from the Upworthy Market directly supports the artisans who crafted it.


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Photo by Vanessa Garcia from Pexels

A professor's message to students has gone viral.

If you know any teachers, you probably know how utterly exhausted they all are, from preschools all the way up through college. Pandemic schooling has been rough, to say the least, and teachers have borne the brunt of the impact it's had on students.

Most teachers I've known have bent over backwards to help students succeed during this time, taking kids' mental and emotional health into consideration and extending the flexibility and grace we all could use. But teachers have their own mental and emotional needs, too, and at some point, something's gotta give.

A college student posted screenshots of a professor's message on Twitter with the comment "someone PLEASE check on my professor." It's simply incredible.

The message reads:

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