Touching Lives. Improving Health
Pet Partners’ mission is to bring hope, comfort and healing to others through the human/animal bond.
“The work we do with Pet Partners® and Pet Partners of Central Arkansas brings me personal fulfillment and brings Hobie pure joy. He gets so excited when he sees the vest he wears to visit and dances until he is in the car.” – Mary Armstrong, Member
Who We Are
We are passionate about what we do. Our love for our animals is what brought us here. But witnessing the change we can make in our community through animal-assisted therapy is why we stay.
ALLAN GATES, President
Provides leadership and support to Board and all Members.
Allan has been a registered Pet Partners handler since 2015 with his Standard Poodle Lucy. Allan and Lucy regularly visit hospital and hospice patients in the Central Arkansas area. Allan says, “I love watching Lucy quietly work a hospital room. The simple, unconditional affection of a dog like Lucy can bring an amazing amount of comfort to a hospital patient and their family.”
Allan and Lucy became a registered Animal Assisted Crisis Response team in 2018. As an AACR team, they have visited with students and faculty at school shooting scenes, victims and first responders at tornado scenes, and unaccompanied teenage migrants in a government children’s center in Texas.
Allan lives in Little Rock with his wife Karen and their five Standard Poodles, Lucy, Coco, Lilly, Danny, and Ginger. Allan and Karen have two grown daughters, Lori and Elizabeth, and four grandchildren, Charlie, Sam, Andy, and Tallulah Jane.
VANESSA CROSSFIELD, Vice President
Vanessa has been a Pet Partners registered handler since 2016 with Boom Shocka Locka, a Borderdoodle. Boom was only 1 year old when the team passed the evaluation. In addition to visiting, they enjoy playing fetch, mind games, performing tricks and participating in Agility for fun. Vanessa says watching him connect with clients no matter the age or situation has made her realize how important this work is to people in need of comfort. “I thought my job during visits was to direct every moment when in reality my job is much simpler. I drive the car, hold the leash, introduce Boom to the client and let him do the rest.” Every time we park the car before a visit I tell him the same thing. “Let’s go make someone’s day a little better.”
Vanessa lives in North Little Rock with her husband Jimmy, Boom Shocka Locka and Maximus Kalel (lab mix rescue). They have two grown children, Bradley and Emily. The house becomes loud and busy when they visit. Emily brings Timber Tyrell (lab mix) and Bradley brings Colt Rakeem (German short haired pointer). In July 2016, Vanessa and Boom became a HOPE Animal Assisted Crisis Response team.
GEORGANN FREASIER, Facilities Coordinator & Handler Workshop Instructor
Serves as the contact person for facilities with existing animal assisted intervention programs and those requesting program development. Teaches Pet Partner Handler Workshops.
Georgann began as a Pet Partners Handler in 1996. And is now also Instructor and Evaluator. Labrador Retriever Yeti is her seventh therapy dog and current Pet Partner. In addition to Pet Partners visits, Yeti is “co-therapist” in Georgann’s Social Work Private Practice and “assistant instructor” at UALR Graduate School of Social Work when Georgann teaches the elective “Animal Assisted Therapy in Social Work Practice”. Yeti loves to dock dive. She says, “The human-animal bond is such an important force in our society that it is an honor to practice and share about it in so many ways.”
LARRY BENCICK, Treasurer
Manages all financial matters for the group, as requested by the Advisory Council.
Larry and his Blue Tick Healer, and best friend, Clyde (Australian Cattle Dog) are life-long residents of Little Rock. Larry found Clyde on the streets back in 2008. Clyde is about seven years old. Larry works as a capital budget analyst for Verizon Wireless and Clyde’s occupation is guarding the home front and keeping an eye on things in general. In addition to supervising Larry, Clyde watches over an elderly cat Larry has and a rabbit Larry somehow inherited from his daughters. Larry’s daughters are teenagers living in VA – one is set to enter college this fall and the other is a junior in high school.
I love the Pet Partners of Central Arkansas’ mission and the joy this program provides to people. I can only imagine myself in others’ shoes to truly understand the happiness it must bring people in need of a visit from a four legged friend. Clyde and I have made a few visits, and in doing so, determined our best fit is places with a one or two on one resident to pet ratio. He has a sense for people in need of some picking up. I know he’s always there to do that for me. Call me strange, but Clyde has so many qualities we seek in people, not just a pet: devotion, loyalty, obedience and empathy to name just a few.”
BEN FREASIER, Secretary
Maintains corporate records and all minutes of both General Meetings and Board Meetings. Facilitates and responds to Memorials given to Pet Partners of Central Arkansas.
Ben is retired from the Transportation Industry and lives in Little Rock, Arkansas with his wife Georgann and is “owned by” three dogs (Hank, Edge and Scout). Ben is a Pet Partners member and visits with his standard poodle Edge and enjoys Agility with (Cardigan Corgi) Scout. Hank (All American) maintains control of all. In June 2014, Ben became a certified Team Leader for HOPE AACR (Animal Assisted Crises Response) a group that responds to crises situations and disasters and offers Hope and Encouragement through Animal Assisted interaction. In addition to activities with his dogs, Ben enjoys activities with his six grown children and nine grandchildren.
ANJE NEVALA, Evaluation Director
Manages all aspects of Pet Partners Evaluations. Maintains list of member registration expiration dates.
As Evaluation Coordinator, Anje is responsible for all aspects of planning and executing the Pet Partners Evaluations. This includes initial contact with “hopeful” new teams; the schedule for Evaluation Day; and recruitment and training of the many volunteers required for each evaluation.
Biography in process.
DEBBIE McCOLLOUGH, Public Relations Director
Organizes and oversees community fundraising, service events, and group social events.
This position covers a wide variety of areas, of which one is fundraising. The goal is to find an event that is fun for all and raises money at the same time. She see it as a win/win. Debbie also oversees “Pawtales” where we share our experiences with Pet Therapy visits, so we can all learn from one another, and “PetTips” where we share useful information that each team may someday need.
Debbie McCollough is a retired kindergarten and First Grade teacher. Presently, she is a certified Spiritual Director with the Diocese of Little Rock and has been a member of Pet Partners since 2015. She enjoys it and looks forward to each and every visit and event. At present, Debbie has two active therapy dogs and one retired therapy dog. You’ll also find her volunteering with Gallant-Hearts Guide Dog center as breeder, puppy raiser and Puppy Raiser Coordinator.
TJ KNIGHT, Volunteer Director
Recruits new members and coordinates their orientation with the Facilities Coordinator. She recruits volunteers for events and communicates with the general membership as needed.
TJ lives in Beebe with her husband and their five fur babies. I have been doing pet therapy since 2010. My current pet partner is Livy, an English Cream Golden Retriever. We visit UAMS, Heart Hospital, and numerous outside events. We plan to add AR Children’s Hospital, VA Hospital, and Clinton National Airport in the near future. Pet therapy began as a hobby for me but quickly became a way of life. Every visit is special in its own way. When statements are made from parents or patients’ caregivers such as, “That’s the first time my child has smiled in days” or “That’s only the second time I have heard my loved one chuckle,” that very second you realize the value of pet therapy. Another successful visit is in the books. A dollar figure can NOT be placed on these visits. Pet therapy is an addiction for me and my partners. Medicine comes in all forms—sometimes on 4 paws, a wet nose, a sloppy kiss, a warm loving heart, and fur, lots of fur!!
Margaret Strickland, Education Director
As Education Director Margaret is responsible for arranging informational and education activities to be presented during CAPP community meetings. She serves new members as they begin volunteering by answering questions and pairing them with mentors.
Margaret became a Pet Partner Handler in 2013. Currently she volunteers with Winston and Augie. They are both adorable but sassy long haired dachshunds. Margaret visits at Arkansas Childrens Hospital, Univ of Ar for Medical Sciences, Pinnacle Pointe Behavioral Health Hospital and Methodist Family Health residential facility. Both Augie and Winston are registered as Animal Assisted Crisis Response animals and have done week long call outs to give a bit of kindness and cheer to unaccompanied minors at an immigration facility.
In addition to serving as the Education Director, Margaret assists the evaluation director by managing the equipment needed and arranging volunteers for evaluations. Her other duty is to mail birthday cards for CAPP members and their animal.
Margaret is a retired Speech Language Pathologist who spent her career working with children. She is married to Steve Strickland and lives in Little Rock. They have two adult children who live out of state.
News & Updates
Lucy, and her handler Allan, were recognized in AY Magazine for the work they do for UAMS and the...
Efforts to curb the spread of COVID disrupted almost all visiting at local hospitals over the last...