Austin – a city where you can find dog-friendly restaurants, hotels and even a dog bar! Another special thing about Austin is that there are a variety of non-profit organizations that focus on animal care and services. Divine Canines is a non-profit organization that encourages smiles and promotes physical and emotional wellness by providing therapy dog services to various populations in Central Texas.
This summer, Divine Canines volunteers and their therapy dogs began visiting the UWATX Navigation Center on a monthly basis.The call specialists who work in the 2-1-1 Navigation Center connect Central Texans in need to vital resources, such as rent assistance, food assistance and affordable childcare, and even suicide prevention. Their jobs can often be demanding, emotionally taxing and stressful. The monthly visits provided by Divine Canines has made a profound impact on our call center employees. Sometimes all it takes is a furry friend to brighten up your day!
We spoke with Karen Laurenzi, a Divine Canines volunteer who frequently visits the UWATX Navigation Center with her dog, Ranger, and her involvement with the organization:
Can you tell us about yourself and how you began volunteering with Divine Canines?
When Ranger was nine months old, I started taking him to obedience school. This led to him earning his Canine Good Citizenship certification when he was a little over one year old. During this time, one of the trainers mentioned that Ranger would make a good therapy dog. I wanted a volunteer opportunity and began researching my options. A few weeks later, my mom was having surgery at St. David’s hospital, and the nurse there told me about Divine Canines. That evening, I looked at their website and emailed Max (exec. director). I was able to get Ranger in the training class that was starting up the following month.
How are your visits to the UWATX Navigation Center different from your other visits?
One of the things that is different with our visits to the Navigation Center is that we only visit with employees. This allows Ranger and the other dogs to develop a relationship with some of the people that they get to see regularly.
What are some holiday events you have been involved in with Divine Canines?
The main events that we have been participating in are college campus visits. They are not holiday events as much as they are end of semester final exams, however, the stress is evident, and the dogs play a role in relieving stress for many of the students.
What is your favorite Divine Canines moment?
There have been many rewarding moments with Divine Canines. One time we were at the hospital and the nurses on the floor we were working on asked us to go back to the surgery center. When we showed up, the nurse asked us to visit a patient that was having an issue with blood pressure. We stayed with the patient for about 30 minutes and were able to watch his blood pressure go down.
What causes do you care about in your personal life?
I am active with my church and family! Due to having family members that have had cancer and being raised and currently living in a ranching community, my husband and I are supporters of The Cattleman for Cancer organization affiliated with MD Anderson research. We have also volunteered for many years with a little league program.
What do you believe makes Austin greater?
Many places in Austin are “dog-friendly”. This allows me to bring Ranger into Austin for a visit and still be able to have lunch with friends or go shopping at particular places without worrying about needing to leave him in the car. It just takes research to find the shops and restaurants that allow dogs.