ARDAT (Ajijic Rotary Dog Assisted Therapy) is an ongoing community program, providing therapy dog visits to institutions, as well as education to increase respect for animals and preventing animal cruelty in the lakeside area. The objective of the program is to utilize dogs for education, and in a therapeutic method that provides joy, comfort, and motivation to the elderly, children and adults in the lakeside area who are sick, mentally or physically handicapped, or have emotional problems. ARDAT dogs also provide comfort to victims of disasters. It has been clinically proven that great emotional and physical benefits are achieved through petting, touching, stroking, and talking to dogs. 


Inspiration and beginnings

In the fall of 2009, Rotary Club of Ajijic member Julianna Rose became interested in the possibility of providing dog-assisted therapy as a high-profile community project for her Rotary Club. She had no experience in this area, and, upon learning that dog assisted therapy was unheard of in Mexico, she started searching to see if there was a Rotary Club somewhere that had such a program. She was lucky and found that the Patchoque Rotary Club, Long Island, NY, USA, had been very successfully running a dog assisted therapy program for nineteen years. More than 200 dogs are deployed in their PRAAT program under the direction of Dr. David Hensen, a veterinarian member of that Club. Julianna contacted Dr. Hensen, who initially provided her with the practical assistance and guidance by phone and email to start a program in Mexico. That not being enough, Julianna travelled to Long Island to meet Dr. Hensen and gain hands on experience.

On November 12, 2009, Julianna Rose submitted the Dog Assisted Therapy Project proposal to her Club, and the Board approved the project on December 8, 2009. After months of preparation, screening dogs, and trial visits, the program officially kicked off on October 4, 2010, World Animal Day, with five therapy dog teams (five handlers and five dogs) in place. ARDAT now has 16 dogs and 18 handlers working in the field, providing weekly visits to some eight Lakeside assisted living and nursing homes, as well as orphanages, libraries, and schools.

The teams

ARDAT volunteers are Mexican and foreign members of the community. ARDAT dogs are pets owned by ARDAT volunteers. Together they make a handler and dog team. The dogs are carefully screened and selected for outstanding temperament, are obedience trained, carry veterinarian health certificates, are well groomed, and up to date with their vaccinations and parasite prevention.

ARDAT dogs come in all shapes and sizes, real dogs with real personalities and real love to share. Some have pedigrees, and some are rescued dogs that are being so lovingly treated by their owners, that all they want to do is give love back. All dogs proudly wear a blue Rotary bandana during their visits.

Providing comfort

The first visit with an ARDAT therapy dog took place on August 18, 2010, before the program even officially kicked off. A flash flood had devastated the village of Atotonilquillo, destroying homes and contents, and washed away sidewalks and bridges. The Rotary Club of Ajijic immediately rallied around, collecting items, and went up there with pickup trucks and private cars, loaded with water, food, blankets, and furniture. As part of the services that ARDAT offers is providing comfort to disaster victims, along went therapy dog Bandit to provide solace to the homeless families with kids that were sheltering in the community center. Today, ARDAT teams visit 8 Lakeside assisted living, and nursing homes on a weekly basis, providing friendly visits to the (mainly foreign) elderly residents. This is often the only visit these people get, as most have no family here, and friends have died or moved back up north. Consequently, they become very lonely and depressed.

Success story #1: In one home, the volunteer asked about a gentleman who sat in a wheelchair, apparently oblivious to his surroundings. “Oh”, the staff said, “don’t bother, he won’t be interested”. Nevertheless, the volunteer went up to the gentleman with therapy dog Chalk and asked him if he would like to say hello to the dog. The man turned around, and slowly started petting the dog. Eventually he started talking to the dog. “Incredible”, the staff said, “that’s more than he has said in the entire three months that he has been here”.

Success story #2: In another home, a lady sat in a wheelchair, away from the other residents. Therapy dog Dakota sensed that she was lonely and went to sit right next to her. Eventually she started petting the dog. And before long, she started talking to the dog. Soon she was looking forward to the dog coming again. Each weekly visit she told the dog stories in her native language, which the volunteer could not understand. The dog listened patiently; sitting close to her while she petted him. A couple of weeks later, the lady died peacefully. Then we realized that the dog had sensed that she was about to die and wanted to comfort her.

Providing education

In January 2011, following the huge success of a six-month pilot program at a Kindergarten in Chapala, ARDAT joined forces with five other organizations and formed an alliance to jointly design a program curriculum for elementary school children (7-12 year-olds), in addition to the little kids program (4-6 year-olds) that was already running. The goal of the education programs is to help children grow into more caring, compassionate people who make the world a better place, by addressing the key pillars of character (such as respect, responsibility, kindness, compassion, and integrity). Humane education will install non-violent conflict resolution skills in troubled youth. By targeting specific grade levels, every child can be reached. Through humane education, children will learn to treat animals, people, and the environment with kindness and respect. Humane education, in conjunction with spaying/neutering and adoption assistance, is the only solution to the problem of domestic animal overpopulation, and the consequent health and environmental threats in the Lakeside community. Teaching responsible pet ownership and helping the community understand the responsibilities associated with having pets are also part of humane education.

Children Reading to Dogs program

What do you get when you bring children, dogs, and books together? You get happy, confident children who love to read. Children are introduced to the wonderful, magical word of books in a positive and unique way. In no time at all, the reading skills of most children will improve.

ARDAT’s Children Reading to Dogs program encourages children to read by providing a non-judgmental listener and furry friend to read to. A friend who will not laugh at them if they make a mistake or stumble over a word, but rather lie next to them and enjoy the story being read to them. Reading is a wonderful opportunity for a child to build his or her imagination and begin to build skills for the future. ARDAT’s Children Reading to Dogs program is a great way to help children discover how much fun reading can be!

ARDAT started the Children Reading to Dogs (Niños Leyendo a los Perros) program in July 2011. The local library in Ajijic was conducting a summer program for children with reading and writing difficulties. ARDAT therapy dog teams participated, and children with reading difficulties had appointments to read to dogs on a one-on-one basis.

Education success story #1: In November 2010, in the mountain town of Mazamitla, south of Lake Chapala, the local ARDAT volunteer (a teacher) and therapy dog Fenia gave a presentation to the local police team, educating them, and instructing them how to round up stray dogs in a humane way, instead of shooting at them. Since then, the volunteer has become a well-known person in the area, working with two therapy dogs in schools. Local authorities are working with her, consulting her, and have provided a shelter. Spay and neuter campaigns have been held for the first time in the area.

Education success story #2: In November 2010, after the Respect for Animals pilot education program for small children at a school in Chapala, the principal told the ARDAT volunteer that the interaction with therapy dog Olivia had turned a little boy around. Apparently, he was so violent to teachers and peers that he had been expelled from all schools. He was on “probation” at the Juarez School, which has as motto “Teaching little ones big values”. It was his last chance. But he was violent and extremely disobedient there too. Shortly before the ARDAT program commenced, he had stepped on a baby’s face, and the school was about to give up on him.

When ARDAT therapy dog Olivia came on the scene, he became very enthusiastic, paid attention, participated in the activities, and won little awards. Within four weeks, he had changed dramatically. He was calm and the violence had stopped. The ARDAT handler had not been told up front and was totally unaware that this particular boy had a history of violence. The principal spread the word about the success of the ARDAT program to other principals in the district, resulting in more schools requesting the program. Volunteer instructors are currently being trained to serve more schools.

Education success story #3: A year ago, at the start of a Pet Parenting program conducted by an ARDAT volunteer at the Love in Action orphanage in Chapala, the children taking part could hardly read, would not sit down at a table, and could not pay attention in school. Interacting and playing with therapy dog Uma has calmed them down, increased their self-esteem, made them enjoy reading, and taught them respect and kindness towards animals.

Education success story #4: A pilot program has been designed by the Humane Education Alliance and is currently being conducted at the Marcos Castellanos elementary school in Ajijic, a school with 180 students. The school has identified over 11% of its students as having reading problems. The principal is enthusiastic to have ARDAT therapy dog teams introducing Children Reading to Dogs sessions and plans to provide this on a permanent basis at the school. This would give the Marcos Castellanos school the honor of being the first school in the lakeside area to have the program on its curriculum.

In the news

ARDAT therapy dogs are regularly in the news and are becoming more and more popular and well known in the community. No advertising is needed; regularly people call who are interested in volunteering, or who have a dog that might be suitable. Normally the dogs only wear their bandana when working, but whenever there is a public event the handlers are encouraged to walk around with their therapy dogs wearing the Rotary bandana.

Community events

On October 3, 2011, ARDAT helped organize a community event at the Cultural Center in Ajijic. It was the first-ever Animal Day event held in the Lake Chapala area. ARDAT had a puppet theater made by the carpentry workshop students of the Hope House home for boys. The theater made its debut at the event, using animal puppets. The fun-packed event included professional clowns from Guadalajara and lots of animal-related activities. ARDAT will help organize an event on World Animal Day each year.

Success story: The Director of Education of the municipality of Chapala attended the event on behalf of the mayor. He offered his permission and complete cooperation to bring humane education programs using ARDAT therapy dogs to the municipal schools.


Funding is needed to keep this important program going on a continuous basis. The Rotary Club of Ajijic has funded the ARDAT program with 4,694 pesos for the 2009 -2010 Rotary year, 4,925 pesos for the 2010-2011 Rotary year, and 5,000 pesos for the 2011-2012 Rotary year.