Hand in Paw is an Alabama Bright Light covered in fur

Hand in Paw is an Alabama Bright Light covered in fur
Hand in Paw's therapy dogs lift the spirits of people in vulnerable situations, from sick children to nursing home residents. (Karim Shamsi-Basha/Alabama NewsCenter)

The little dog looked at me with anticipation.

I asked her how she felt about being at Hand in Paw. She got excited and said, “I love it here, woof. I love to run around with the other dogs. They’re very friendly. We love to help people.”

Well, the dog did not actually say that. It was Executive Director Margaret Stinnett giving voice to the dog. In much the same way, the work of the therapy teams at Hand In Paw speaks volumes about the organization itself.

On its website, Hand in Paw clearly defines its goal: ‘With a mission to improve human health and well-being, Hand in Paw is Alabama’s premier Animal-Assisted Therapy provider and a national leader in this growing field.”

Hand in Paw provides professionally trained animal therapy teams with volunteer handlers in more than 100 medical centers, schools and service organizations across central Alabama.

“We’ve been in business for about 23 years now,” Stinnett said. “We train volunteers and their pets to go into the community and visit people who are in vulnerable situations. Those could be hospitals, nursing homes, schools or wherever we can help.”

Hand in Paw brings canine comfort to people in hospitals, nursing homes from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

As we walked around the Hand in Paw office, every employee was accompanied by a dog. Some dogs did tricks, others begged to play and others looked like they were saying, “I would really like a treat now.”

Stinnett acknowledged every pet, petted its fur and spoke to it. It’s easy to see she has a genuine love for animals.

“When I see how Hand in Paw impacts individuals in distress, I feel very fortunate to be part of an organization and a community that touches people,” Stinnett said. “We do it to serve our community, because one day we may all be in that situation.”

Hand in Paw began in 1996 when Beth Franklin, who still works at the organization, noticed the lack of animal-assisted therapy.

“I started Hand in Paw to improve the health and well-being of people of all ages. I love seeing the results of our therapy teams day in and day out,” Franklin said. “It brings incredible joy to my heart to know Hand in Paw is helping people.”

Today, more than 150 professionally trained volunteers carry out the mission of Hand in Paw. Stinnett is fully aware of the effect Hand in Paw has on people.

“I do this because if you’ve ever had a child in the hospital, you might know all the stress involved in that situation. If you knew there was someone who could come in and make your child smile and less anxious, you would want that to happen,” Stinnett said. “The joy I see on the children’s faces makes everything worthwhile. When our therapy teams visit sick children, I know that we’re giving back to my community in a way that touches people.”

Stinnett is looking forward to Hand in Paw’s signature fund-raising event, Picasso Pets, on Aug. 17. The evening at the Grand Bohemian Hotel will feature a silent auction, therapy animals, drinks, a seated dinner and a live auction.

“It will be a night to remember. We have some of Birmingham’s premier artists involved, and their pieces are pretty amazing,” Stinnett said.

For more information, visit handinpaw.org.

Alabama Bright Lights captures the stories, through words, pictures and video, of some of our state’s brightest lights who are working to make Alabama an even better place to live, work and play. Award-winning journalist Karim Shamsi-Basha tells their inspiring stories. Email him comments, as well as suggestions on people to profile, at [email protected].

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