Our History

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