Human-Animal Bond in Colorado therapy team elevates “healing value” of human-animal interactions

human-animal bond in colorado volunteers kathy mcnaught and winnie
Photo: www.SilverPawStudio.com

Following a career in nursing, Kathy McNaught and her dog Winnie began volunteering with Colorado State University’s Human-Animal Bond in Colorado – HABIC center in 2017 to support individuals and families in their local community.

habic dog Winnie and elementary school studentThere are some volunteers who truly bring passion to make a difference. Kathy McNaught and her Golden Retriever Winnie have done just that by participating in a variety of HABIC volunteer activities that involve people of all ages. Their deep interest in interacting with others has led to many different experiences and impacts.

“We have worked at Columbine Commons in Windsor, where we visited residents weekly in the nursing care and assisted living areas,” said McNaught. “We have been at Dunn Elementary School in Fort Collins, where we worked weekly with the school counselor and the students that she identified to benefit from established goals in a working relationship with Winnie.”

“We have attended numerous special activities at CSU where we have met with many students, faculty members, and employees,” McNaught said. “In all these different settings, the purpose of our presence is to give people hope and healing through kindness, comfort and encouragement, and to decrease hurting by reducing their stress, anxiety and loneliness.”

Even through the COVID-19 pandemic, McNaught stayed connected to senior residents in long-term care by sending them heart-warming letters. In 2020, she also took on a leadership role to support other volunteers.

Finding passion and purpose in human-animal interactions

McNaught is a retired nurse who wanted to continue her career in retirement. “I was looking for a way to continue connecting meaningfully with people, and positively facilitating their physical and emotional well-being,” said McNaught.

“Besides my interest in being with and helping people, I also love dogs. I had read about the beneficial effects of human-animal interactions so I thought this would be a new, wonderful, and gratifying experience…it would be my perfect new job!”

“Living in Fort Collins since the 1970’s, we have always enjoyed the advantages and experiences associated with CSU,” said McNaught. “When I became interested in becoming a volunteer in animal therapy, I was delighted to learn about the respected HABIC program for therapy animals at CSU.”

Golden Retriever Winnie also “chose people”

Luckily, McNaught had a special partner for therapy work: Winnie, a Golden Retriever their family brought home from Wyoming as a puppy in 2009. “Winnie has always been a sweet, quiet, and gentle soul,” said McNaught, “but she also has a willful trait and lets you know what she likes and does not like. Winnie genuinely loves people and always chose people over other dogs.”

At home, Winnie finds interesting ways to connect with her family. “We always say Winnie ‘lives a life of crime’ because one of her favorite activities is to steal: shoes, slippers, a woven coaster, the bathmat,” said McNaught. “She has never destroyed any item…she will patiently wait for you to notice her, so she can exchange the item for a dog cookie.”

Although McNaught says Winnie also likes peanut butter and green beans, her love of cookies has led her to even more relationships, specifically with the UPS driver, who leaves a cookie for Winnie on delivered packages. “The mere sound of the UPS truck and/or any other delivery truck in the neighborhood brings Winnie to the door to check.”

Making a difference with HABIC

habic volunteer team kathy and winnie working with students at csu during a de-stress event
CSU students get a chance to de-stress with HABIC volunteer therapy dog team McNaught and Winnie.

Through their work with Human-Animal Bond in Colorado – HABIC, both McNaught and Winnie have derived a sense of personal satisfaction. “Winnie has adapted well to her HABIC work and role,” said McNaught. “She always knows when we put on her HABIC vest, it is time for her to go to work, to give love and comfort.”

“I am motivated to stay involved because I love the job,” added McNaught. “It has given me purpose and such great joy! It is a privilege to work with all the wonderful people who are part of HABIC and to make HABIC visits to people of all ages in our community with Winnie by my side.”

In 2021, the team received HABIC’s “Polly Award,” which recognizes outstanding human-animal interactions in long-term care facilities.

“I believe the most important work that HABIC does is the sharing of our animals and ourselves to promote positive well-being and support quality of life in people,” said McNaught. “I firmly believe in the powerful and healing value of human-animal interactions, which touch people psychologically, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.”

habic logoAbout Human-Animal Bond in Colorado

Founded in 1993, Human-Animal Bond in Colorado (HABIC) is a center in the School of Social Work, part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences. HABIC’s mission is to improve the quality of life for people of all ages through the therapeutic use of companion animals, with particular focus in the areas of community outreach, teaching, and research.