MAKE A DIFFERENCE: Your donations will help provide pet therapy in the Miami Valley

When we see animals wearing a vest, we’re likely to remind ourselves that these are service dogs that we shouldn’t be petting..

“But there are other animals that wear vests whose job is to get petted and loved on,” says Pam Killingsworth, president of the Miami Valley Pet Therapy Association. “They can be dogs, cats, rabbits and even miniature horses.”

MVPTA is a volunteer organization that trains and arranges pet visits for any community event or group. Teams from the group visit hospitals, nursing homes, libraries, the V.A. and hospice facilities. You’ll also see them at community nights out, at safety town in conjunction with a local police department and at the Montgomery County Jail.

“Many of our teams were a presence at some of the gatherings after the Oregon Shooting to provide comfort and a furry friend to hug,” says Killingsworth. “We have been invited to attend funeral viewings and we get quite a few requests from schools to visit during exam weeks.”

It all started with a small group of volunteers at Wright Patterson Air Force Base. By 1998, as requests from off-base continued to escalate, it was decided to make the group official. “We now have about 120 teams who visit all over the Miami Valley,” explains Killingsworth. " We do not charge for our services and will try very hard to fill most of the requests we receive. Our mission is to promote the use of highly trained domesticated pets to improve the health, independence and quality of life of citizens living in the greater Miami Valley.”

Interacting with a pet, she says, helps heal physical and mental issues.” A pet therapy visit can help improve cardiovascular health, reduce blood pressure and produce a calming effect. Other benefits include increased happiness, less depression, a better outlook on life, less loneliness and isolation, and reduced anxiety or boredom.”

A case in point

Barbara Williams, who lives at Stonespring of Vandalia, is regularly visited by volunteer Cindi Heck and her dogs, a Labrador retriever named Grace and a Great Pyrenees Lab mix named Nick. “The dogs make me feel loved,” says Williams. “Gracie’s kisses are like no other. Sometimes when Nick does a trick it makes me laugh. Their visits lighten my whole day.”

Heck, who has been a dog lover and owner throughout her life, found herself drawn to the MVPTA booth at a local festival some years ago. She picked up a pamphlet explaining pet therapy and immediately knew it was something she’d love to do. She just had to wait for the right dog to come along.

In 2018, Heck and her husband adopted “a four-month old white fur ball” from a rescue. " He grew to be a large fur ball who was calm and easy-going and loved all people and other dogs,” Heck relates. After getting a head start with obedience and trick classes, Heck applied to MVPTA. “I began to realize you are a team with your dog and that you make an incredible bond along the way” she says. She now spends every weekend visiting nursing homes, hospitals and rehabilitation institutes. Gracie, a more recent addition, was trained a few months ago and will soon be involved with a reading program at the Northmont branch of the Dayton Metro Library.

Heck insists the therapy program is a win for all involved. “Therapy dogs can calm people who are anxious, break up the boredom of a hospital stay and simply give an overall sense of wellness to people in distress,” she observes. " The dogs benefit because they love the attention and meeting new people. Some dogs are happier when they have a job, I believe it is the highlight of my dog’s week! I derive a sense of calm and wellbeing while watching the dogs interact with others and just being a part of helping other people. Whenever someone tells me bringing my dog to visit with them made their day, they just made mine!”

Heck says sometimes Nick will go into a room where the patient has not opened their eyes all day and is in distress. “He will immediately calm that person the moment he enters the room,” she notes. “The experience has been one of the most rewarding of my life, and I can’t emphasize enough if anyone has the interest and the time it is well worth doing!”

Our Make a Difference readers can help by donating both new and gently-used items to the organization’s annual fundraiser, Pet Fest. The items will be used for a pet garage sale and raffle gift baskets. Open to the public, the festive event is slated for 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 14 at Delco Park in Kettering.

Here’s what they need:

  • Leashes
  • Collars
  • Harnesses
  • Pet bowls for food
  • Pet treats
  • Pet blankets
  • Crates
  • Pet clothes
  • Pet beds
  • Pet toys
  • Pet-related books

Donations can be dropped off to Pam Killingsworth, 3049 King James Drive, Beavercreek, 45432. Picks-ups can also be arranged by calling 937-320-9122. Financial donations are also appreciated.

Other ways to be involved:

  • Attend Pet Fest! “We welcome families with well-behaved pets and also folks who just want to come and pet some dogs,” says Killingsworth. “We have vendors, dog demonstrations, a costume contest, a Kids’ Corner, basket raffles and more.” The day also includes a pet-friendly Fun 5K Run/Wag Walk.
  • The organization is always looking for new volunteers. Classes are held twice a year. If you are interested in finding out if your pet is pet therapy material, email: or by phone at 937-286-0028 or through the website:
  • If your group would like to request pet therapy visits, check out


Meredith Moss writes about Dayton-area nonprofit organizations and their specific needs. If your group has a wish list it would like to share with our readers, contact Meredith:

Please include a daytime phone number and a photo that reflects your group’s mission.

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