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Monday Close-Up: Provo nonprofit pushes for therapy animal recognition

Therapy animals are not service animals, and that is a distinction that matters.

Unlike service animals, the primary role of which is to provide support for one individual, therapy animals provide benefit to many people. Also unlike service animals, therapy animals are appropriate to approach and pet in public places.

Therapy animals differ from service animals in other ways, too, including that the former are not allowed to live in housing with no-pet policies and don’t have special rights of access in public establishments, like restaurants. Also unlike service animals, therapy animals are not covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

In light of these differences, Utah Pet Partners, a Provo-based nonprofit that uses therapy animals to provide emotional relief for everyone from veterans to children with learning disabilities, is advocating for recognition of the benefits therapy animals provide.

“They’re specially trained, really awesome animals,” Deborah Carr, executive director of Utah Pet Partners, a community chapter of the national organization Pet Partners, said in an interview on Friday. “But we can only go where we’re invited.”

The nonprofit, which is run by volunteers, serves populations throughout most of the state, including between Brigham City and Santaquin, as well as in St. George. According to Carr, volunteers and therapy animals visit 70 facilities throughout the state, including but not limited to hospitals, assisted-living facilities, hospices, shelters for women and children in crisis, schools, libraries, correctional facilities and airports.

“People say, ‘Why do you serve the airport?’ And I think, ‘Have you flown?’,” Carr says as she sits outside her Provo home. “A lot of people are afraid of flying.”

The volunteers also bring therapy animals — most commonly dogs but also other mammals like cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, llamas and alpacas, rats, miniature pigs and equines — into juvenile courts, including the 4th District Juvenile Court in Provo.

“Our teams come with those kids and they sit with those kids before the judge to help them relax and feel calm and like they can handle things. And it just changes the whole feel of the courtroom. It’s an amazing, amazing thing,” Carr said.

Carr believes there is a biological component to the connection humans feel being around animals. She referenced the biophilia hypothesis, a theory suggesting that humans possess an innate tendency to connect to nature.

There could also be an evolutionary component, Carr said, noting that “as we evolved as a human species, we needed to pay attention to the wild animals around us, for our own survival and safety.”

Carr pauses and smiles as she sees a woman on the sidewalk in front of her house walking a chocolate-colored Dachshund.

“But whatever it is, my eyes are always drawn immediately to all the animals that walk by,” she says.

Different therapy animals work better with different types of people, according to Carr. For example, John Colter, Carr’s 6-year-old Shetland Sheepdog named after the 19th century American explorer, works best with patients dealing with memory-loss.

Utah Pet Partners scored a victory this month in its fight for recognition of the benefits of therapy animals when the Utah County Commission approved a resolution declaring April 30, 2021, as “National Therapy Animal Day in Utah County.”

The resolution, which the commission approved 2-0 during its Wednesday meeting, states that therapy animals “play an essential role in improving human health and well-being through the human-animal bond” and “bring comfort and healing to those in need.”

Additionally, the resolution encourages “our citizens to celebrate our therapy animals and their human handlers” and “publicly salute(s) the services of therapy animal teams in our community and in communities across the nation.”

Carr, who lobbied for the resolution, started brainstorming ways to celebrate the upcoming county holiday.

“I think we’ve got to think of something for this,” she said. “Maybe a big dog-walk along the Provo River trail. It would be a neat thing.”

But the fight for therapy animal recognition is far from finished. Carr said she is working with Utah County lawmakers on legislation to get therapy animals recognized at the state level, and will continue to support efforts for recognition at the national level.

For more information about Utah Pet Partners, visit http://www.therapyanimalsutah.org.

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Orem's Neighborhood Preservation Unit goes civilian

In a time when police departments are being defunded, officers are scrutinized and neighborhoods are in crisis, the Orem Police Department is thriving on innovation and positivity.

Lt. Mike Paraskeva was a sergeant while serving in the Orem Police Department’s Neighborhood Preservation Unit. He said he saw deficiency on how things were running and presented ideas on the issue to Jamie Davidson, the city manager.

Paraskeva could see the need to lighten the load on a court system that had to listen to cases of residents who were cited for yards that were not in compliance with the city codes. His idea would also free up trained officers for other areas of public safety.

The suggestion that stuck with the city manager and Community Services department was the idea of taking the unit out of police jurisdiction and putting it under the manager’s office.

That would not only free up three officers, but it would be a better fit for residents to have non-uniformed code enforcers at their door.

“The civilian position removes the image of a heavy hand,” Paraskeva said.

It is not the wish of the police to bring scrutiny and judgment on neighbors when they drive up in a police car and uniformed officers come knocking, according to Paraskeva.

“This is a healing direction,” Paraskeva added.

Dedicated full-time employees given the right to enforce city code with neighborhood preservation issues will not only be able to work with families with untidy and unsafe yards, but also see if they need other services such as food, rent relief, home repairs, etc., according to Steven Downs, deputy city manager.

“We are trying to elevate lives in neighborhoods,” Downs said. “Besides, non-profits like churches, United Way and its agencies, and other services can help. We are looking at issues holistically.”

The Neighborhood Preservation Unit will be a part of the Community Services department directed by Kena Mathews.

As part of the program, Davidson has approved employees to take work time and with supervisors do service projects in the areas that need help.

“People get overwhelmed with life,” Mathews said. “The thought of maintaining is hard, but at the end of the day we do need yards in compliance.”

Mathews said there are numerous resources to find help. Orem even provides a tool library. They have a mobile trailer that has several yard tools and mowers they can bring to the home to help with yard maintenance.

This concept also helps fulfill a priority of the City Council to have safe and livable neighborhoods.

“We need to continue to invest in our city,” Mathews said. “With this code enforcement we believe we can put more time and energy into maintaining neighborhoods.”

Mathews also indicated the city has the technology and software that lets officials map out where properties of concern are located.

The original Neighborhood Preservation Unit began about 20 years ago with now-retired Chief Gary Giles, who has been dubbed a visionary in the creation of the program while an officer on the force.

“Code enforcement can work with Community Services to help people with great need and provide resources,” Mathews said. “We’re a good community neighbor.”

Mathews said she has already hired one civilian code enforcer and is hiring at least one perhaps two more.

While they are still working out the complete process, Mathews said the idea is to let the residents do as much as they can by themselves but to be ready with volunteers and resources when needed.

If the city receives a complaint about a yard or property, the code enforcer sends a letter or email with follow-up in 30 days, not a police officer with a citation.

While there may still be times the police may be called to help out, it is the hope of the city that this new program will free up officers to other areas of need and that residents will take advantage of the free services and some even volunteer to help out on projects.

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Residents encouraged to spring into fire safety

It’s the season for outdoor grilling, spring cleaning, yardwork and using outdoor fire pits, which means it could also be a time of unintentional fires.

While people usually think of fire hazards more during winter months with fireplaces, candles and holiday lights, there are plenty of hazards during springtime as well. It’s also a perfect time to prepare for hot, dry, summer months.

“As spring comes to Pleasant Grove and our surrounding community, it’s important that we begin to clean our property, create fire-wise landscapes and remove excess materials. Materials such as clippings, branches, or plants can be chipped. However, sometimes materials need to be burned to be safely removed from your property,” reads a recent post on the Pleasant Grove Fire Department Facebook page.

Open burning is legal in Utah County from March 30 through May 30 and again Sept. 15 through Oct. 30, but it is strictly regulated.

“Open burning is defined as any flame exposed to the environment where pollutants produced from the fire are emitted directly into the surrounding air. Open burning can be a source of air pollution, which the Division of Air Quality controls. Regulation of open burning helps to minimize emissions, keep our air clean and maintain the public health,” continues the post.

“We do see some people who burn when they’re not supposed to. But, the biggest problem is that people burn things they’re not supposed to burn,” said Pleasant Grove firefighter Zach Larsen. “They’ll throw garbage and trash in and that can add a different element to the fire. Rubber burns different from wood and wood burns different from plaster.”

Larsen said that burning items other than green waste can make it easy for a fire to burn out of control. But, people do throw in PVC pipes, tires and other non-green waste items.

“We do see quite a bit of that. We are called in typically because these fires can cause a thick black smoke, which concerns people,” he said.

This can not only be dangerous because of fires and pollutants in the air, but it takes the firefighters away from more dire emergencies.

“We’re there telling someone to quit burning the wrong things and an important call comes out, like a baby choking,” Larsen said.

To burn green waste during the open burn period, a permit must be obtained from residents’ local fire departments. In addition to burning green waste, there are other ways to decrease the chance of fires.

“Springtime is a time that we should be prepping for hazards. This year because of the drought, we have already seen more brush fires,” Larsen said.

Some tips to help keep homes and property safe include keeping trees and branches about 10 feet from each other and 10 feet from the house, ensuring that tree branches are not hanging over houses, cutting dead limbs off of trees, raking leaves that might be left from fall and keeping shrubs off of homes.

“We have seen a couple of brush fires that have burned down homes locally this year,” Larsen said. “If property is near the brush, take a good look at landscaping,” he said. Additionally, property owners near the wildlands can contact their local fire departments if they see hazards, such as thick weeds or dry brush.

“A lot of people stock their woodpiles underneath decks or next to houses,” Larsen said. However, he recommends that they be kept at least 30 feet from homes.

Another tip is to not cut holes in decks for trees to grow through, as many people do. These look nice, said Larsen, but they can be hazardous, especially if the property is on the interface, where wilderness meets an urban setting.

While most structure fires happen during the winter months, Larsen said that the warmer months have hazards as well. Many fires are started due to careless use of fireworks, fireworks put into garbage cans next to homes, backyard fires that don’t get fully extinguished and illegal burns in sheds.

“If people live in the city, embers can spread fires a mile and a half from the main fire,” Larsen said. “While it’s less likely to see that happen, it still happens.”