Prairieland Visiting Animals Association began taking shape in February 1992 with a small group of three people. When Marvin Samuelson, DVM, came to Topeka early in 1992 to open an animal dermatology clinic, there already were two teams in Topeka registered with the Pet Partners Program: Jeanene Hoover and her dog Cookie, and Connie Loerch and her dogs Hank and Rocky.
Dr. Samuelson was on the Delta Society Board of Directors at that time. Because of his connection with Delta, Dr. Samuelson was influential with Hill’s Pet Nutrition and area veterinarians to be supportive. After Jeanene attended an open house for Dr. Samuelson and made the connection with Delta Society and Pet Partners, Jeanene, Connie and Dr. Samuelson began brainstorming about a Topeka group. In August 1992, Jeanene, Connie, and Dr. Samuelson went to Kansas City and met with the two registered Pet Partners there.
Through the sponsorship of the Topeka Veterinary Medical Association in February 1993, we were able to host our first Volunteer Workshop with 30 participants under the leadership of Claudette Greenwald, RN, a Delta Society Certified Instructor. This first workshop brought us three committed new members - Judy Briggs, Carolyn Rebek, and JoLynn Yetmar - who would bring our little group to six members. Judy had a dog named Katie and Carolyn had a cat named Precious. Both of these teams were among the first to become Registered Pet Partners with Carolyn having our first cat.
JoLynn was a Certified Recreational Therapist at Stormont-Vail Regional Health Center at that time and was instrumental in getting a visitation program approved there using the Pet Partners protocol. Jeanene and Cookie were invited to make the first visit to the hospital in July 1993 and the program is still successfully in place today.
Soon Karen Simecka, who was the public education coordinator for the Topeka Kennel Club, and Judy Samuelson, Dr. Samuelson’s wife, joined in our efforts to form a standards-based visiting animals group in Topeka. Karen quickly stepped into a leadership role and our goals started taking shape.
In October 1993, Dr. Samuelson and Jeanene both attended the annual Delta Society Conference in St. Louis and gained insight into the scope of the growing interest in Animal Assisted Therapy and Animal Assisted Activities.
We decided to call our group Topeka Assistance Animals registered with Pet Partners. We later changed our name to Prairieland Visiting Animals Association to more accurately reflect our mission. With each of us assuming a pivotal role, we began plans to host another Volunteer Workshop and an Advanced Workshop in November 1994.
Helping to give our efforts impetus was a visit in July 1994 by Linda Hines, Executive Director of Delta Society. Those of us in attendance at the dinner for her gleaned much inspiration for the expanding acceptance of visiting pets who had some training along with their human partners. Dr. Samuelson provided money, and was able to secure grants from the Topeka Veterinary Medical Association and Hill’s Pet Nutrition to fund our Workshops planned for November 12, November 19, and November 20,1994 All of our Workshops were held at the Holiday Inn at 6th and Fairlawn.
Kathy Pontikes, a PhD in education from St. Louis was the instructor for our Volunteer Workshop on November 12, 1994. Her background included work with special-needs children in K-12.
For the Advanced Workshop on November 19 and 20, 1994, we had the following four highly qualified instructors: Mary Burch, a PhD in Behavioral Science from Florida; Maureen Fredrickson, an MSW from Washington State who served as Program Director for the Pet Partners Program; Shari Sternberger, who served as National Chairman of the Pet Partners Committee from Maryland; and Ellen Shay, also from Maryland, who served as National Training Coordinator for the Pet Partners Program. Accompanying Shari was her dog Gandalf, who was a Registered Pet Partner.
Prior to the November 1994 Workshops Dr. Samuelson and his wife, Judy, and Karen Simecka attended the annual Delta Society Conference in New York City on October 13-15, 1994. Karen and Judy took the Certified Pet Partners Animal Evaluator’s course and returned qualified to test skills and aptitude for human/animal teams wanting to pursue the requirements to be Registered Pet Partners.
The Advanced Workshop on November 19 and 20, 1994, brought us two outstanding people - Rick and Perrin Riggs - who would assume leadership roles in our Prairieland Visiting Animals group. We had 39 people attend this Workshop, with many coming from out of town.
On Friday evening prior to the Advanced Workshop we held our first aptitude screening with 25 dogs and 2 cats participating. This brought us another dimension to our group with Jan Curtis and her cat Miss Maggie. They became our second human/cat Registered Pet Partners and Jan soon assumed a leadership role in our group. Also among the first human/dog teams to be Registered Pet Partners were Karen Simecka and her dog Katie, and Rick and Perrin Riggs and their dogs Kadie and Murphy.
We began preparations for our human/animal Evaluation set for July 29, 1995, at the National Guard Armory. At this point, we had three Certified Evaluators: Karen Simecka, Judy Samuelson and Helen Waldes. We evaluated 23 teams two of which were a Dwarf Hoto Rabbit named Rosie who belonged to Debbie Getting, and a Cockatiel named Casper who belonged to Barb Smith.
These two teams added yet another dimension to our group and soon both Barb and Debbie assumed an active role. The other 21 were human/dog teams.
This gave us new visiting teams and we began to be more visible in the community. Also significant in 1995 was Cookie (Jeanene Hoover’s Pet Partner) being named Kansas Pet of the Year by the Kansas Veterinary Medical Association for his weekly visits to the elderly over a period of five years. This recognition brought many opportunities for Jeanene and Cookie to present programs in the community promoting the concept and benefits of a visiting pet. They presented 26 programs on Animal Assisted Therapy and Animal Assisted Activities in Topeka as well as appearing on KTWU-TV for a half hour interview with Rich O’Brian.
We were invited to participate with our animal partners in the Topeka Area Continuity of Care Resource Fair at Stormont-Vail Regional Health Center, and have continued that each year until that program was discontinued, and at Paws in the Park benefiting Helping Hands Humane Society.
Since our Evaluation in July 1995, we have held two Evaluations each year through the present time for those people and their companion animals who wish to pursue the requirements to be Registered Pet Partners. As a result of our Evaluations we became connected with Kathy Gaughan, DVM, who is a Certified Evaluator for the Pet Partners Program. At that time Dr. Gaughan was on staff at KSU and she has been instrumental in our success and professionalism. For a time Dr. Gaughan, Karen Simecka, and Helen performed our Evaluations.
In 1996 St. Francis Health Center approved a visitation program that Karen was instrumental in achieving.
In 1997 we drafted and approved our Constitution and Bylaws. Our name was officially changed to Prairieland Visiting Animals Association and a logo portraying who we were and what we did in the community was designed by Rick and Perrin Riggs. The group proudly approved the logo
and we use it on all our correspondence and publicity. Also in 1997 we became a Kansas Non Profit Corporation and applied for and received our EIN from the IRS.
After losing Karen, Judy, and Helen to other parts of the country, Rick Riggs took the extensive training required to become a Certified Evaluator, and in 2001 he earned that designation. Rick and Dr. Gaughan were our only two Certified Evaluators until 2004. Kathy Schlotterbeck, Jan Stover, and Barb Smith took their training in February 2004 and received their Certified Evaluator designation that year. As of the present time we have four Certified Evaluators in our group - Rick, Kathy, Jan, and Barb. We also still benefit from the presence of Dr. Gaughan at our Evaluations.
We have enjoyed good, steady growth with some high quality human/animal teams. After our teams go through the Evaluation process we try to help them weave their way through the rest of the requirements for registration with Pet Partners.
Since our first screening on November 18, 1994 through the present time (June 2005), we have evaluated 314 teams. We have teams visiting in many area facilities brightening the day for those who are isolated. Registration with the nationally recognized Pet Partners Program gives some assurance to program directors of facilities being visited that their guests are well trained and able to interact with residents in a meaningful way, and lends credibility and professionalism to the program. There are still requests for programs in the community and a number of our members are willing to present them.
Jeanene Hoover, June 2005