Volunteer therapy dogs like the one seen here will be in attendance at Canine Therapy's Tenth Annual Black and White Gala March 5. Credit: Provided.

NEAR SOUTH SIDE — A popular fundraiser for Canine Therapy, a nonprofit that provides animal-assisted therapy services, returns Saturday.

Hosted by the Young Professionals Board, the 10th annual Black and White Gala is being held at from 7:30 p.m.-11:30 p.m. at Revel Motor Row, 2400 S. Michigan Ave. Attendees will have the opportunity to sample food from the city’s most notable restaurants and participate in a silent auction offering international trips, luxury hotel stays and sporting events while listening to a live DJ. There will also be a chance to meet some of the canine heroes helping others.

Tickets are $105 and can be bought here.

The 31 year-old organization has nearly 65 volunteer teams dispatched across the Chicagoland area, providing 1,400 hours of free therapy to over 5,000 people, according to their site.

“We go one step further from what most people think of as what therapy dogs do,” said Ann Davidson, operations manager for the organization. “When most people hear ‘therapy dog’ they think of a dog who comes into a place like a hospital or a nursing home to provide comfort to people who are lonely or in a stressful situation, and that is one thing they do. But we go a step further by using the dogs to help people get better as well.”

Dogs are used in “goal-directed programs” for patients with physical therapy needs or those with mental health challenges. They can help stroke patients recover their motor skills by playing a game of fetch, which not only accelerates the healing process by making it fun but also provides much-needed companionship.

Davidson said fundraising has been particularly hard for Canine Therapy since the pandemic began, with donors “understandably shifting their funding priorities.” But the pandemic has also created a greater need for those in need of mental health support. Though the organization had to pause its in-hospital services due to pandemic safety, all of their mental health programs are back.

The organization now has 45 volunteer dogs on its roster, helping patients at Haymarket Center — a substance use rehab facility — Jesse Brown VA Medical Center, Lawrence Hall and Sonia Shankman Orthogenic School, a Woodlawn-based therapeutic school for children and adolescents with emotional challenges.

Davidson hopes to increase the number of volunteer pets as well, inviting owners of child-friendly, reliable dogs to sign up for training. Those without dogs, or whose dogs aren’t quite up to the challenge are encouraged to volunteer as well.

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