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.

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Some 75 years ago, in bombed-out Frankfurt, Germany, a little girl named Marlene Mahta received a sign of hope in the midst of squalor, homelessness and starvation. A CARE Package containing soap, milk powder, flour, blankets and other necessities provided a lifeline through the contributions of average American families. There were even luxuries like chocolate bars.

World War II may have ended, but its devastation lingered. Between 35 and 60 million people died. Whole cities had been destroyed, the countryside was charred and burned, and at least 60 million European civilians had been made homeless. Hunger remained an issue for many families for years to come. In the face of this devastation, 22 American organizations decided to come together and do something about it: creating CARE Packages for survivors.

"What affected me… was hearing that these were gifts from average American people," remembers Mahta, who, in those desperate days, found herself picking through garbage cans to find leftover field rations and MREs to eat. Inspired by the unexpected kindness, Mahta eventually learned English and emigrated to the U.S.

"I wanted to be like those wonderful, generous people," she says.

The postwar Marshall Plan era was a time of "great moral clarity," says Michelle Nunn, CEO of CARE, the global anti-poverty organization that emerged from those simple beginnings. "The CARE Package itself – in its simplicity and directness – continues to guide CARE's operational faith in the enduring power of local leadership – of simply giving people the opportunity to support their families and then their communities."

Each CARE Package contained rations that had once been reserved for soldiers, but were now being redirected to civilians who had suffered as a result of the conflict. The packages cost $10 to send, and they were guaranteed to arrive at their destination within four months.

Thousands of Americans, including President Harry S. Truman, got involved, and on May 11, 1946, the first 15,000 packages were sent to Le Havre in France, a port badly battered during the war.

Thousands of additional CARE Packages soon followed. At first packages were sent to specific recipients, but over time donations came in for anyone in need. When war rations ran out American companies began donating food. Later, carpentry tools, blankets, clothes, books, school supplies, and medicine were included.

Before long, the CARE Packages were going to other communities in need around the world, including Asia and Latin America. Ultimately, CARE delivered packages to 100 million families around the world.

The original CARE Packages were phased out in the late 1960s, though they were revived when specific needs arose, such as when former Soviet Union republics needed relief, or after the Bosnian War. Meanwhile, CARE transformed. Now, instead of physical boxes, it invests in programs for sustainable change, such as setting up nutrition centers, Village Savings and Loan Associations, educational programs, agroforestry initiatives, and much more.

But, with a pandemic ravaging populations around the world, CARE is bringing back its original CARE packages to support the critical basic needs of our global neighbors. And for the first time, they're also delivering CARE packages here at home in the United States to communities in need.

Community leaders like Janice Dixon are on the front lines of that effort. Dixon, president and CEO of Community Outreach in Action in Jonesboro, Ga., now sends up to 80 CARE packages each week to those in need due to COVID-19. Food pantries have been available, she notes, but they've been difficult to access for those without cars, and public transportation is spotty in suburban Atlanta.

"My phone has been ringing off the hook," says Dixon. For example, one of those calls was from a senior diabetic, she remembers, who faced an impossible choice, but was able to purchase medicine because food was being provided by CARE.

Today, CARE is sending new packages with financial support and messages of hope to frontline medical workers, caregivers, essential workers, and individuals in need in more than 60 countries, including the U.S. Anyone can now go to carepackage.org to send targeted help around the world. Packages focus on helping vaccines reach people more quickly, tackling food insecurity, educational disparities, global poverty, and domestic violence, as well as providing hygiene kits to those in need.

From the very beginning, CARE received the support of presidents, with Hollywood luminaries like Rita Hayworth and Ingrid Bergman also adding their voices. At An Evening With CARE, happening this Tuesday, May 11, notable names will turn out again as the organization celebrates the 75th Anniversary of the CARE Package and the exciting, meaningful work that lies ahead. The event will be hosted by Whoopi Goldberg and attended by former Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Jimmy Carter, as well as Angela Merkel, Iman, Jewel, Michelle Williams, Katherine McPhee-Foster, Betty Who and others. Please RSVP now for this can't-miss opportunity.

Motherhood is a journey unlike any other, and one that is nearly impossible to prepare for. No matter how many parenting books you read, how many people you talk to, how many articles you peruse before having kids, your children will emerge as completely unique creatures who impact your world in ways you could never have anticipated.

Those of us who have been parenting for a while have some wisdom to share from experience. Not that older moms know everything, of course, but hindsight can offer some perspective that's hard to find when you're in the thick of early motherhood.

Upworthy asked our readers who are moms what they wish they could tell their younger selves about motherhood, and the responses were both honest and wholesome. Here's what they said:

Lighten up. Don't sweat the small stuff.

One of the most common responses was to stop worrying about the little things so much, try to be present with your kids, and enjoy the time you have with them:

"Relax and enjoy them. If your house is a mess, so be it. Stay in the moment as they are temporary..more so than you think, sometimes. We lost our beautiful boy to cancer 15+yrs ago. I loved him more than life itself..💔 "- Janet

"Don't worry about the dishes, laundry and other chores. Read the kids another book. Go outside and make a mud pie. Throw the baseball around a little longer. Color another picture. Take more pictures and make sure you are in the pictures too! My babies are 19 and 17 and I would give anything to relive an ordinary Saturday from 15 years ago." - Emma H.

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Photo by Daniel Schludi on Unsplash
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The global eradication of smallpox in 1980 is one of international public health's greatest successes. But in 1966, seven years after the World Health Organization announced a plan to rid the world of the disease, smallpox was still widespread. The culprits? A lack of funds, personnel and vaccine supply.

Meanwhile, outbreaks across South America, Africa, and Asia continued, as the highly contagious virus continued to kill three out of every 10 people who caught it, while leaving many survivors disfigured. It took a renewed commitment of resources from wealthy nations to fulfill the promise made in 1959.

Forty-one years later, although we face a different virus, the potential for vast destruction is just as great, and the challenges of funding, personnel and supply are still with us, along with last-mile distribution. Today, while 30% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated, with numbers rising every day, there is an overwhelming gap between wealthy countries and the rest of the world. It's becoming evident that the impact on the countries getting left behind will eventually boomerang back to affect us all.

Photo by ismail mohamed - SoviLe on Unsplash

The international nonprofit CARE recently released a policy paper that lays out the case for U.S. investment in a worldwide vaccination campaign. Founded 75 years ago, CARE works in over 100 countries and reaches more than 90 million people around the world through multiple humanitarian aid programs. Of note is the organization's worldwide reputation for its unshakeable commitment to the dignity of people; they're known for working hand-in-hand with communities and hold themselves to a high standard of accountability.

"As we enter into our second year of living with COVID-19, it has become painfully clear that the safety of any person depends on the global community's ability to protect every person," says Michelle Nunn, CARE USA's president and CEO. "While wealthy nations have begun inoculating their populations, new devastatingly lethal variants of the virus continue to emerge in countries like India, South Africa and Brazil. If vaccinations don't effectively reach lower-income countries now, the long-term impact of COVID-19 will be catastrophic."

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