A nonprofit is once again looking for people with big hearts and great pets to become certified therapy teams and spread joy in Tuscaloosa area homes, hospitals, schools and more.

The organization, called Hand in Paw, arranges volunteer-driven animal-assisted therapy for those who need it in Birmingham and Tuscaloosa, with programs that focus on mental health and wellness, education and literacy, and the development of life skills and animal advocacy.

First founded in 1996, Hand in Paw has grown to include certified 80 therapy teams who visit more than 70 program partners including the Boys & Girls Club of West Alabama, DCH Regional Medical Center, Tuscaloosa's Crimson Village retirement home and many more.

The Thread first profiled the organization in November, but organizers there said Monday they once again need volunteers for this unique service.

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(Hand in Paw)
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HIP's Director of Communications Brittany Filby said dozens of west Alabama organizations already partner with the nonprofit. Volunteers might bring dogs and cats to a local high school to reduce students' stress or a physical therapist might have a patient brush a visiting dog's fur to develop fine motor skills, and all HIP services are provided at zero cost.

Other organizations see the value of animal-assisted therapy and have requested to partner with HIP, but for now they're on a waiting list.

"Hand in Paw receives daily requests for its services; however, it has been experiencing a shortage of therapy teams to meet the needs of the community," she said.

Filby said there have not been enough volunteer and pet therapy teams to expand the partner list, but a new grant from the animal lovers at Tito's Handmade Vodka is set to change that. With the new funding, Hand in Paw is looking to recruit and train 30 new therapy teams this year and looking for more help in Tuscaloosa specifically.

Filby said HIP's area of greatest need right now is for volunteers who want to take their pets to visit isolated seniors and military veterans in the area.

So what kind of pet owner might qualify to volunteer? HIP provides a checklist of the basics here and a more detailed guide here that outlines the qualities they're looking for in therapy animals, expectations for handlers and how to start the registration process. Learn more and find out if you're a good fit to expand this compassionate service in West Alabama.

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