Marion Nixon has been a volunteer with Pet Partners for two decades. She has served as a handler with multiple dogs and even a cockatiel. She has also been a volunteer instructor and team evaluator for many years, providing countless hours of work to bring the power of the human-animal bond to people in the Houston area and helping to ensure that all Pet Partners teams can visit safely. She’s watched the Therapy Animal Program grow and evolve, and her efforts have been invaluable in supporting the Pet Partners mission and bringing more teams to the Houston area.
Marion has another distinction: She was one of the first handlers to take part in our animal-assisted workplace well-being (AAWW) initiative with Aetna. Marion was part of visits with the Aetna location in Houston early on in the AAWW initiative in 2017, making visits first with her bichon frise, Brandi, and later with her coton du Tulear, Cesar.
Marion and Brandi have really enjoyed their visits at Aetna!
And she’s been a vocal champion of these visits, encouraging other handlers to take part, not just for the benefit of the people they’re visiting, but for the dogs as well. Marion shared her thoughts about how valuable these visits are and how they align with the principle of YAYABA:
“As a member of Pet Partners since 1999, I am totally aware of our service we provide to the community in airports, hospitals, nursing homes, schools, libraries, etc. Please take a moment and look at the community service from the standpoint of the pet. What is it that the pet receives from the visit (noise, smells, handling, etc.)?
“We need to think of the pet since we are advocates and caregivers of them. Aetna visits are a great way for the pet to receive a “jump start” in the heart and mental health of the pet.
“This visit is a positive, uplifting and valuable visit where the dog receives positive attention while visiting without merely serving the community and receiving nothing in return. The dogs at Aetna visits are in a healthy, comfortable, quiet location, being loved upon and made special for two hours.”
Marion’s experience of her dogs’ enjoyment at these visits has been echoed by other handlers taking part in the AAWW initiative. Many handlers have talked about how much their pets enjoy the attention, how easy and relaxed the visits are, and how the nature of an AAWW visit can be an energizing alternative from visits that are sometimes emotionally challenging. Workplace well-being visits are all about celebrating the joy of pets!
The Houston employees have been enthusiastic about these visits as well:
“I love it!! During a busy work day it’s nice to unwind and love on the pups!! Even if it’s for a short bit I feel all warm and fuzzy afterwards!”
“Before I headed back to my desk after lunch, I stopped by Pet Partners Therapy for a few minutes to pet Cesar and Brandi. I love my own dogs but our visitors were so cute and irresistible and it was so enjoyable to play with them that it felt like I was at home playing with my own pets. The therapy team handlers were so friendly and I could see how much they love their pets. It’s great that they can come and share their love and it’s a fantastic program!”
This is the kind of reaction that Pet Partners teams see during AAWW visits, and Marion was one of the first handlers to bring this to people.
Due to some health issues, Marion recently had to curtail her AAWW visits, a disappointment for both her and the employees. Her fondest hope is that other teams will now pick up the baton and continue the tradition of visits that provide so much fulfillment for both the employees and the Pet Partners teams.
“I encourage you to try out this form of visit at least once. I am sure you will agree it is an experience well worth putting on your calendar for monthly visits.”
We want to thank Marion for everything she’s done as part of Pet Partners—her work has been so important in so many ways, and we’re grateful for her continued activity as a handler, evaluator, and instructor. And while we’re sad she has to step back from AAWW visits, we also look forward to having new teams follow in her footsteps.
If you’re a handler interested in being part of a workplace well-being visit in Houston, please contact us—we’d love to have more teams step into this valuable role!
We have AAWW visiting programs in a number of other cities as well, and are open to new locations. If you’re a volunteer interested in being part of a visit, make sure you check “I am a volunteer with Pet Partners and I would like to receive emails” in your email subscription preferences. If you’re interested in hosting AAWW visits at your organization, please contact us to inquire about options.