Tampa Bay area nonprofit that trains therapy dogs in need of helping hand | Seminole


It may be the dog days of summer, but that hasn’t stopped one area nonprofit from bringing therapy dogs and those who need them together.

Project PUP (Pets Uplifting People), which has served the Tampa Bay area for nearly 30 years, is in need of a helping hand from the community that it serves.

Founded in 1985, the organization trains dogs (and sometimes cats) to visit hospitals, schools, nursing homes and hospice centers to bring comfort and joy to those facing illness and hardships.

“In a lot of these facilities, people are missing their pets horribly,” said John Turner, who has served as president of the organization for the last six years. “Our dogs really make a difference.”

Teach an old dog new tricks

Project PUP is comprised of 242 dogs and their owners, who have been screened and trained for the community work. Screenings can be held for both puppies and older dogs that are well-behaved and know basic commands, Turner said.

“The process is fairly simple,” Turner said. “Overall, just a dog that wants to be around people and that wants attention and love.

Their owners are just as important as the pups, Turner said.

“We are looking for a positive person that wants to make a big difference in the community,” he said.

It’s a dog-eat-dog world

Like most nonprofits, the last few years have not been kind to Project PUP. Coronavirus put a stop to most donations, Turner said, which have fallen to less than 50 percent of what they were in prior years.

In addition to the donation deficit, Turner said the cost of the group’s insurance has risen $5,000 from last year.

“We’ve really struggled to make it past this year,” Turner said. “I don’t want to see Project PUP go under because of funding, but if this economy keeps going like it is, we’re going to lose our small therapy dog ​​organizations.

“That’s the reality of it,” he continued.

The organization has little overhead, but due to financial constraints its board members often have to pay for operational costs out of their own pockets.

Turner said he and other volunteers try to attend most community events in the hopes of securing more funding.

“We are doing what we have to do to survive,” he said.

Puppy love

The impact therapy dogs have on those they visit is immeasurable, Turner said.

“There are stories after stories where our volunteers make such a difference,” he said.

Turner himself, who has worked with dogs for 28 years, has witnessed therapy effect they can have on people.

“One day, I was visiting a hospital,” he said. “My dog, which was very unusual, jumped out of my arms and ran to this gentleman who was sobbing. For probably close to an hour and a half, not a word was spoken until his family arrived. He turned to me and said, ‘Thank you, this is the best you could’ve done today.’

Turner said that he often takes his dogs to domestic violence centers to help abused children.

“Children will often tell our dogs what they are too afraid to say to adults,” he said.

How to help

If you are interested in donating to Project PUP, or if you would like to join the organization, visit projectpup.net or call 727-755-6167.

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