Tammy Bobo is co-chair of Pet Partners of North Florida, which trains and assists therapy animal volunteers who make pet therapy visits throughout the region. She enjoys bringing joy to the people she and her miniature Australian shepherd Mia visit.
Can you tell me a little bit yourself and your background?
I am not a native of Florida, but I visited many times as a child for my dad’s pilot training. I fell in love with Florida and its palm trees. I grew up in Montana but “froze to death” every winter. I knew I wanted to live in Florida sometime in the future. My husband was in the Navy when our son was born at the Naval Air Station in Jacksonville in 2002. Then, we had to move again to another base. We moved back to Florida in 2017 after my husband was transferred from Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, to Mayo Clinic Florida. So it only took me about 14 years to get back to Florida. My husband and I both have backgrounds mental health. He is a psychiatrist, and I used to work as a psychiatric nurse practitioner. It is a good fit for me to take part in pet therapy.
Tell me about your work with Pet Partners of North Florida. What does the organization do?
I am new to Pet Partners of North Florida (PPNF). I became a registered handler in July 2020. I have wanted to take part in pet therapy for many years, but it took me a while to find the right dog. An animal must demonstrate the willingness to welcome people into their private space, be reliable and be predictable. It might take the handler and animal more than once to pass the team evaluation. After I became registered, they kindly asked me to become the co-chair of PPNF. The chair and co-chair coordinate the social media footprint of the organization, fundraisers, visits and assist in testing evaluations.
Pet Partners of North Florida is a nonprofit community partner of the international organization, Pet Partners. As a community partner, we provide the training and assistance to current and prospective teams to become registered therapy animal volunteers in northern Florida. We have over 100 registered teams, and last year we logged 24,000 visits.
The pet therapy visits are the most rewarding part of being a member of Pet Partners of North Florida. The main goal of the visits is to improve an individual’s wellbeing and health through the human-animal bond. There are a multitude of opportunities for therapy including assisted living facilities, reading programs in schools, hospice programs, women’s shelters, veterans’ organizations, and even colleges to help students manage stress during exams. PPNF recently partnered with the University of North Florida to help bring animal-assisted activities to Nemours Children’s Hospital.
One important mission has to do with the COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused disruption in our ability to visit hospitals, but we have started to visit independent living and assisted living facilities. The pandemic has led us to broaden our horizons to look for other areas to bring stress relief besides hospitals, such as corporate visits and first responders. We recently were invited to visit Amazon and the Riverside Park Apartments for independent living.
We often hear about dogs being enlisted to brighten lives and provide animal therapy, but pet Partners works with nine different pet species. Are rabbits, horses, and other pets pretty much interchangeable from a therapy perspective?
Therapy benefits occur because of a strong human-animal bond. It is unique for each individual what species of animal would invoke that strong bond. I had one individual come up to me and ask specifically for a rabbit. Sometimes, our animals remind people of their own past pets. For example, another individual who was residing at an assisted living facility was excited that my dog was a miniature Australian shepherd. The last dog that she owned had been an Australian shepherd. So it really comes down to choosing an animal that rekindles those memories of their own experiences or other beliefs and causes physiological and emotional changes. These changes result in reduced stress, lower anxiety and even increases in oxytocin — a natural hormone that triggers feelings of social bonding and well-being.
What do you find most rewarding about your work with Pet Partners?
The most rewarding part of working with Pet Partners is bringing joy to individuals in such a stressful time. The pandemic has been hard on everyone and has resulted in individuals being isolated from others. Being a part of Pet Partners also jibes with my love for dogs. It is fun to work as a team with my dog, Mia. Animals have their own minds and are often independent thinkers. It has been fun to work with Mia and develop a working relationship. One could say that one of my hobbies is taking care of my three dogs.
How do corporations, facilities or individuals request a visit?
It is quite easy to request a visit. Just go to our website for Pet Partners of North Florida and click on the “request a pet therapy visit” link. The website address is as follows: https://www.petpartnersnf.org. We also have a Facebook page. Please visit to see pictures of our visits and recently registered teams. The Facebook page is called Pet Partners of North Florida.