Therapups is a dog-walking service in New York City with an integrated pet therapy program that serves elderly New Yorkers. In addition to providing regular walks to pets, Therapups' certified staff will bring each dog on a weekly pet therapy visit with an elderly resident of the neighborhood. These free, in-home visits will bring the physical and emotional benefits of pet therapy to elderly members of the community while providing pets with additional attention and human interaction.
Therapups is a dog-walking service in New York City with an integrated pet therapy program that serves elderly New Yorkers. Pet owners can sign their dogs up for a weekly plan that includes five 30-minute walks per week at standard rates, plus a 30-minute pet therapy visit with an elderly resident of the neighborhood once per week. These free, in-home visits will bring the physical and emotional benefits of pet therapy to elderly members of the community while providing pets with additional attention and human interaction.
The project was designed by Rabia Dilara Cumhur, Alaa Balkhy, Kara Schlindwein, and Maxine Morris to answer the creative brief, how do we design a service to bring aid to an "invisible population" in New York City?
New York City is home to nearly one million residents over the age of 65, a number that is projected to grow by 35% by 2030. The elderly are particularly vulnerable to social isolation and loneliness owing to loss of friends, family, income, and mobility. This lack of mobility due to infrastructure challenges, such as flights of stairs, tend to contribute to depression and self-isolation that prevent the elderly from engaging with the outside world. According to new research from New York University and the International Longevity Center, 27 percent of New Yorkers over 65 live in walk-up apartments that are not on the first floor.
Social connection and inclusion are vital to health in older age. The benefits of pet therapy for older adults are numerous and include both physical and mental effects. Interaction with therapy animals can lift spirits and lessen depression, decrease feelings of isolation and alienation, and provide comfort. It can also lower blood pressure, improve cardiovascular health, release endorphins that have a calming effect, and diminish overall physical pain. Studies show that interaction with a pet can also reduce the need for medication.
Therapups Dog Walkers will partner with NYC non-profit the Good Dog Foundation to certify its dog walkers as pet therapy handlers and all client dogs as therapy pets. Since their founding in 1998, Good Dog has trained thousands of therapy dogs and handlers in New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey and coordinates their visits to hundreds of hospitals, nursing homes, and healthcare facilities. There are, however, many pet owners who don't have time to accompany their dogs on such visits and many elderly residents of New York City who do not live in healthcare facilities. Therapups Dog Walkers will address this gap while collaborating with Good Dog on certification. Any breed of dog can become a therapy pet with five hours of training. Dogs will be required to have a letter from a veterinarian proving good health, including having rabies vaccinations and being flea and tick-free.
Therapups Dog Walkers' services to the elderly will be free of charge. In order to offset costs of therapy training and keep rates for dog walking competitive, we will seek funding through a grant from the New York Foundation for Eldercare, which provides elderly New Yorkers with programs and services that enable them to lead healthy, dignified lives. They also award grants to programs that help them achieve their mission.
Therapups Dog Walkers will promote their free services to the elderly through a partnership with the New York City Department for the Aging. The department's local case management agency will refer elderly residents to the program. The department's case managers will also provide support to Therapups Dog Walkers therapy pet handlers and monitor the success of their interactions with the elderly.
Therapups will target Millennial pet owners as clientele. New York City is home to 600,000 registered dogs. Millennial pet owners want to care for their animal, and they also want to give back to their community. 75 percent of the city's Millennials give to charities, and 43 percent volunteer or are members of a community organization. 76 percent of Millennials are more likely to make an expensive purchase for their pet than for themselves. We anticipate this audience being willing to pay slightly more for our service than an average dog walking service. Therapups' fees will also be tax-deductible for our clients, through our nonprofit partner, the Good Dog Foundation. As New York City's Millennial population grows, Therapups Dog Walkers' potential client base is expanding.
Therapups employees will be paid paid $18 per hour, $3 more than the average in New York City. We aim to hire employees who are bilingual, to better serve the 46% of New York City's elderly that are immigrants. It is our hope that this will provide younger immigrants and international students from local universities with employment opportunities that do not require a higher education, utilize their language skills, and pay more than the industry average.
Therapups plans for its pilot program in the Lower East Side to break even in the first year of operation, with startup and operating costs of about $79,000 and a projected revenue of $113,000. Pet owners will pay $85 per week for their dog to receive five half-hour walks and go on one therapy visit per week. This cost breaks down to $17 per walk, just above the average cost in New York City of $15 for a 30-minute individual walk.
If this pilot program is successful, we anticipate expanding to several other neighborhoods in New York City. The model could also be easily replicated in various cities where there are similar populations in need. As the company grows we would like to explore the possibility of becoming a certified B Corporation to facilitate future partnerships with additional nonproft organizations.
Therapups hopes to bring comfort to elderly through pet therapy, while reaching three secondary audiences. Millennial pet owners will have an opportunity to easily do good for their neighbors, our dog walkers will be provided with a meaningful opportunity for employment, and our partnering organizations will benefit from increased awareness and enhancements of their own services. It is our goal to create a viable for-profit business that uses sustainable nonprofit partnerships to provide a service that improves quality of life for the elderly in New York City.
We thought this project was great - connecting to two sort of demographics or audiences that otherwise weren't connected, dogs that need walking with elderly who need companionship.
It is a strong model and that brings companionship to both parties and has the power to grow beyond just this example.