Your Neighbor: Steve Burn and Max are a Dynamic Duo for Good
Jul 20, 2015 03:34AM
● By Kevin
Photo courtesy of Daydream Photography.
Fifty-three-year-old Steve Burn was born in England but moved to Canada in 1979 to live with his older brother and go to college. That’s where he earned a degree (Bachelor of Environmental Studies) and went on to work for various companies in the healthcare, automotive, consumer electronics and imaging/photography industries. Now retired and living in Mansfield, Burn volunteers much of his time working with Max, his registered pet therapy dog. As a volunteer dog therapy team, Burn and Max visit all kinds of facilities where people can benefit from animal-assisted therapy. He’s been doing the work for about 5 years now. Burn has been married to wife Kelly for 6 years and has two stepsons.
We had a chance to talk to this “avid animal lover” and find out even more about him, his unique volunteer interest and his partner Max.
Tell us about how you got involved with this kind of work?
We are part of a nonprofit group called Pet Partners, a national organization based in Bellevue, WA, and belong to our local Mansfield group known as Paws With Partners. Our group currently has 16 registered dog/handler teams. Pet Partners is the nation’s largest and most prestigious nonprofit registering handlers of multiple species as volunteer teams providing animal-assisted interactions. Pet Partners is the leader in promoting and demonstrating that positive human-animal interactions improve the physical, emotional and psychological lives of those we serve. Therapy animals provide affection and comfort to people in places such as hospitals, retirement homes and schools. A few years ago we discovered the All Star Equestrian Group and the great work they do providing therapeutic horseback riding. We went to one of their fundraisers with Max and he was so good with the children there. I knew he was destined for pet therapy. After discovering Pet Partners (formerly known as Delta Society), we underwent training and evaluation and Max began his career as a registered animal-assisted therapy dog in March 2011. Max and I have visited nursing homes, assisted living facilities, hospitals, elementary schools (R.E.A.D. Program), child advocacy centers, universities, a special needs ranch and other places. Max’s job, I’m only his chauffeur, is to interact with the clientele at the facility we are visiting and simply let the magic happen by being petted and loved on. So the journey began.
Tell us more about the benefits people receive from pet therapy.
A wide number of people, both adults and children, benefit from animal-assisted therapy and the human-animal interactions in a variety of facilities. People can experience all kinds of physical, psychological and spiritual benefits from spending time with pets and animals.
Explain what it means to be a registered dog therapy team.
Being a registered animal-assisted therapy team means sharing your special pal with others. Making a difference to so many people, children and adults alike, is a calling which results in endless smiles and wonderful, caring stories. The experiences are unique and lives are changed by the interactions we have with our clients, there are emotions that tug at your heart strings, that bring tears to your eyes but all are so very, very worthwhile. I can tell you when families want your dog to be part of their loved ones final hours in hospice it is a special moment and time that is an honor.
Is this strictly volunteer work for you?
Our work is done on a volunteer basis which means we receive no compensation for the hours we dedicate to animal-assisted therapy. But volunteering is a job with responsibilities that require a definite commitment of time, energy, intelligence, preparation and follow-through.
What kind of training is required?
You, the human, must complete the Pet Partners Handler Course. During the course you will learn the importance of maintaining the high standards of Pet Partners and the field of animal-assisted therapy by being well prepared and committed to delivering exemplary service. You also learn about various conditions that the people you visit might have. This helps you gain an appreciation for them and also makes you better equipped to promote positive change in their lives. Finally, you learn how to partner most effectively with your animal by gaining an understanding of how animals communicate with us.
Tell us all about Max and some of his activities.
Max is a six-and-a-half-year-old Chow Chow mix. We adopted Max from the Arlington Animal Services Center in December 2009. Given the chance to play with children and adults he is always ready with a big, fluffy wagging tail. His volunteer work began in March 2011 at Sterling House (Brookdale Living) in Mansfield. He visits there every Monday morning and the residents are waiting in the lobby for him. We now visit 6 nursing homes/assisted living facilities in Mansfield, Arlington and Fort Worth. Max does a R.E.A.D. Program at Anna Mae Daulton Elementary school. The Reading Education Assistance Program is used by libraries and schools to inspire young readers to improve their skills in a relaxing environment with a “friend” listening to them read aloud. He attends special events at Paws For Reflection Ranch in Midlothian. This ranch provides a healing, educational, motivational and recreational environment utilizing equine and other animal assisted therapies and experiences to enhance the quality of life for all their clients. Namely, Max visits during Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas functions for children with special needs. Max also visits UTA every semester for two events. First, there is Tail Waggin’ Wednesday’s which occurs the 1st Wednesday of each month during the school year. Second, we visit during Finals Week at an event we call Paws For Finals. The students have a great time when the dogs are at the library, we try and have anywhere from 2 to 4 dog handler teams at each event, so everyone can play or relax with a pup. Max has over 50 visits and 100 hours of volunteer time at UTA! One important, valuable, piece of therapy work Max performs is his time at the Child Advocacy Center called Alliance For Children. Max is a therapy dog – case worker and works to help children who have gone through some kind of abuse. This requires a lot of trust between Max and the client, establishing this trust comes from unconditional love and watching Max work his magic to help these children cope, recover, gain confidence, self-esteem and strength is awe-inspiring to say the least. Our most recent activity, which started in April 2014, is our Pet Partner Program at Texas Health Resources Hospital – HEB (Hurst/Euless/Beford). Max is part of a four dog team that visits the hospital on a rotating weekly basis. The dogs visit the Oncology, Cardiac and Intensive-Care Unit wards in the hospital to offer comfort and support to patients, family and staff.
One of his special projects involved visiting the town of West just after the fertilizer plant explosion in April 2013. The town contacted us as a result of being associated with the American Red Cross and asked us to join them for a special event called Loving West to be held in June. Our instructions were to walk around the streets impacted by the explosion and see if any of the residents wanted to meet Max. Walking through a “war zone” is something I thought I’d never encounter in my lifetime, certainly not with my pet dog by my side. I was amazed by the number of residents, recovering from such devastation, who stopped cleaning up their property and came over to pet and talk to Max. They were so grateful we came to visit them and hadn’t forgotten about them.
Are there certain breeds of dog that work best and what kinds of characteristics do they need to have?
Pet Partners does not evaluate by breed but by individual dog. The best dogs, animals, are those that are reliable, predictable and controllable. The therapy team needs to work as a team and the respect, trust and support given to the animal will result in the right characteristics and temperament for therapy work.
What kind of training/preparation did Max have to go through?
This is always a fun question to answer as Max has been perfect from the very first minute we adopted him. He knew all his commands and quickly learned anything new we taught him. I get asked all the time “He is such a well behaved dog how long did it take to train him?” We know we were so fortunate with Max and having the correct training, preparation with your animal is imperative to having a successful therapy animal.
What makes you two work so well together?
Love and trust! People we work with always say to me they can tell Max loves me. We do have those moments when we look each other in the eye and I know we have such a special relationship only other animal owners know.
Is there anything else our readers should know about what you do?
We are always looking for people and animals to grow our group so we can expand our reach into the community. There is almost an endless opportunity and requests for our services. Most importantly, I believe you will not do a more rewarding thing in your life!
What’s the payoff for you?
Simply helping others and seeing the smiles and excitement as people engage with Max. My take on life is we are here to help our neighbors and there is nothing better than giving back to those less fortunate or those that are in need.
How can other people find out more or get involved in this kind of work?
People can get more information and details about Pet Partners from their website: www.petpartners.org. Our local Paws With Partners group can be contacted and followed, via: e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org, or Facebook Page: www.facebook.com/petpartnerspawswithpartners.
Mansfield Magazine July/August 2015 Your Neighbor
Mansfield Magazine July/August 2015 Your Neighbor