JoCo on the Go Podcast: JoCo loves its pets

On JoCo on the Go, episode #146, Johnson County has two innovative programs that pair pets with young readers, and separately, help individuals seeking Johnson County Mental Health Center services. Hear from the departments about how the programs that involve animals are making a big impact. Also, learn how you can support the programs in a variety of ways or participate.

JoCo on the Go Webcast: JoCo loves its pets

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Time Subject
00:24 Introduction
01:31 How the pet program works
07:32 How parents can get involved
08:28 Other ways the library supports learning
09:33 Mental health partnership with BestyBnB
13:33 How you can get involved with this program
16:04 Theresa's final podcast episode

Theresa Freed 0:00 

There's no doubt Johnson County loves its pets. On this episode, find out about two programs in two different departments supporting pets, their owners and young readers.

Announcer 0:11 

Whether you live in or just love Johnson County, Kansas, JoCo on the Go has everything Johnson County. Here's what's happening and what's coming up in the community you call home.

Theresa Freed 0:24 

Thanks for joining us for JoCo on the Go. I'm your host, Theresa Freed, a Johnson County resident and employee of Johnson County Government. Typically on the podcast, we're talking about how the county is serving people. And that's still part of today's discussion, but we're also going to be talking about some of our furry friends. The programs are part of Johnson County Library and Johnson County Mental Health Center. We're going to start with Michelle. So Michelle, if you can introduce yourself, kind of talk about your role with this program and then tell us about the program?

Michelle Ranney 0:52 

Yeah, so my name is Michelle Ranney, and I work at the Monticello Library. I am also part of the summer reading leadership team. And through that, we started our first in person programming again this summer. And our Read to a Dog program is one that we have done for years at Johnson County Library. We tried to do it during the pandemic, but it was not the same as reading to a dog or other animal, as we'll talk about, in person. And so that's just kind of how I got involved with that.

Theresa Freed 1:31 

Alright, so tell us exactly how does the program work? So what animals are we talking about? And is it just at this one branch? Or, you know, how does it operate?

Michelle Ranney 1:42 

Yeah, so it's called Read to a Dog. But it is not limited to volunteers that have just dogs. This summer, we were really excited to have our first cat. So kids can...reading age kids, basically, what they do is they come to the library, and we have about an hour and a half block of time that we usually have two to three animals. And the kids can come and spend about 10 minutes practicing their reading to these therapy animals. And so over the summer, when we did the program, we had it at four different branches, just one time. And then we're super excited, because this spring, we are bringing the program back in full force. And we'll have it at four different locations once a month for each location. So we're really excited about letting more kids in the community have that opportunity.

Theresa Freed 2:42 

So we're talking about animals that are therapy animals. So what kind of training do they receive so that they're safe to interact with the kids?

Michelle Ranney 2:50 

Yeah, definitely. So the organization that we work with is Pets for life, KC Pets for Life. And they have a program that they have done for years in which they work with volunteers and their therapy animals, to make sure that they are of good temperament to be with children. And basically, they're just there to really, like, help the kids have that confidence. And it's really awesome, because obviously they do it here with us at Johnson County Library. But they do it all over the KC metro at hospitals, they go into schools, after care programs, different treatment facilities. So it's not just limited to a certain time of day or organization.

Theresa Freed 3:43 

Okay, and so can you talk a little bit about the kids? So what age group are we talking about? And what are the some of the benefits of doing it this way?

Michelle Ranney 3:51 

So the kids are really, we see pretty much ranges in ages, from about six to 10 years old come to the program. Any kiddos that really have had experience and want more experience reading. And I don't know about you, but even for me, like, as a child, like, sometimes it's really intimidating whenever we're having to learn how to read and sound out words. And sometimes we as grownups are a little bit scary to kids and, like, they don't want to mess up. And they don't want us to, like, think that they're doing something wrong. And so the great thing about these animals, these dogs and cats, is that they're not judging them. They're just there to, you know, be supportive and snuggle, and it's really sweet to see the kids interact in that way. So really, it's all about building confidence, reader confidence, and yeah, just making sure, like...supporting the idea that reading is fun, and it's exciting and it's not something to be scared of.

Theresa Freed 5:01 

That's a great message. And I know, you know, for my 10-year-old son, I tell him when he gets upset or feeling stressed out or whatever to go and have a little chat and pet our beagle, and that usually helps him to kind of feel calm. And I imagine it has sort of that same therapeutic benefit when you're reading. Also, you know, I would tell him to maybe, you know, sit down with with our pet and, you know, that our dog is more of a captive audience than, say, our cat, I think. I don't know exactly how that would work with a cat. But like, yeah, I'm sure it has the same benefits. So when you're talking about this program, which is really tailored towards the summer months, there's probably benefit doing this all year round with your own pets. Can you talk about that?

Michelle Ranney 5:47 

Yeah, absolutely. I think anytime that, yeah, like you said, when you have a dog or a cat maybe that has a little bit better temperament. That is the nice thing, though, is that not everybody has a pet. Like not everybody has access to know, it takes a lot to take care of a dog or take care of a cat. And so that's one way that this program is so beneficial to everyone in our county and why we're so excited to bring it back in the spring and have more access, because it will be after school hours. And so kids will have that opportunity outside of the school day. Hopefully, it's a time, too, when their grownups are able to be able to bring them to the library. So it's like, so kids that don't have that opportunity get to experience those benefits as well.

Theresa Freed 6:38 

And is there a difference in terms of reading to yourself and reading to someone else? Or reading out loud? Can you talk about that?

Michelle Ranney 6:46 

Yes. So reading out loud, definitely. First of all, it helps you to know the rhythms of the words that you're using, being able to separate syllables, like, all of that. Also, it's just using different parts of your your brain as well. Because when you're reading out loud, you're actually listening as well. And so it is, it's very helpful. And that's why we always talk about, too, as children's librarians, like, the importance of reading to your child, and for them to be able to hear those words even from a little young age.

Theresa Freed 7:27 

Alright, great information. So how do parents get involved, get their children involved in this program?

Michelle Ranney 7:32 

Yeah. So when our spring guide comes out, which will be sooner than we think, then they will be able to participate in the library program itself. They'll be able to see what branches and what time, and then also if they have animals that they're interested in getting certified, maybe people have, yeah, they're like, "Wow, I really want to be a part of KC Pets for Life organization." You can go on their website, which is And get on there to volunteer with that organization as well.

Theresa Freed 8:12 

Alright, that's terrific. And we want to remind, you know, parents and everybody that there are plenty of programs the library has all school year too. So it's not, again, during just the spring and the summer. So do you want to touch on that real quick on other ways that the library supports families and learning?

Michelle Ranney 8:29 

Yes, so the library supports families and learning in lots of different ways. First of all, if you don't know already, you're to get a Johnson County Library card, it's free. So we have all sorts of resources, both online and in person resources. We have audiobooks. We have different databases that your children can be learning things on. And then of course, we have different programs. We have programs for all ages of kids, from storytime, little kids, we have book groups for tweens and elementary school aged kids. And we have different writing and other kinds of programs like that for teens as well. So really, the whole family can get involved and be lifelong learners.

Theresa Freed 9:16 

Alright, perfect. Thank you so much for sharing some of that information with us. And we'll check back in here in just a bit. So next we want to bring with us Nathan Carter into the conversation. So a completely different program, but still pet focused. So Nathan, if you want to introduce yourself and then tell us a little bit about the program?

Nathan Carter 9:33 

Sure. Thanks for having me. My name is Nathan Carter. I'm the community relations manager for Johnson County Mental Health Center. And we have a new service available to our clients called BestyBnB. They're a Kansas City-based company that uses a technology platform to connect people seeking social services with temporary foster homes for their pets. So think AirBnB, but for pets. Their origin story includes extensive work with domestic violence agencies in Kansas City like Rose Brooks Center and SafeHome, among others. But our partnership with them is the first time their service has been made available to people seeking mental health or substance use treatment. And that's a group that experiences similar barriers to getting help. So through this partnership with BestyBnB, Friends of Johnson County Mental Health Center, which is the nonprofit 501c3 organization that supports us here at Johnson County Mental Health Center, they're going to cover the costs for clients' pets, to stay with trained, vetted caregivers in our community for up to 30 days.

Theresa Freed 10:47 

And so this is a new program. It sounds pretty innovative. Is Johnson County the first or one the first to do something like that? You mentioned here in this this area, but is it modeled after anything?

Nathan Carter 10:59 

So we are for the BestyBNB service, we are the their first foray into providing the service to mental health, to those experiencing mental health or substance use struggles. And so we're excited to hopefully now be the model for others around the state and around the country.

Theresa Freed 11:21 

Perfect. And can you talk a little bit about why this is such an important service. I'm sure, you know, having a pet, you don't want to be separated. I mean, you know, we just talked about pets can help you kind of calm down and feel valued and important. You're taking care of this pet. So why is it so important to have this resource so that individuals can feel encouraged to seek treatment?

Nathan Carter 11:45 

So we found that finding temporary care for pets can be a really significant barrier to getting help. So before we launched the service with BestyBnB, we conducted an internal survey, and we interviewed 59 Johnson County Mental Health Center staff members, and 71% of them had encountered at least one person who had declined care in the last six months, because they did not have temporary care available for their pets. So we all know pets are a family. We know the benefits pets can have for our mental health. And so no one should have to decide between getting help or keeping their pets. So having the service available to our clients is another step towards making care more accessible and saving lives in our community.

Theresa Freed 12:38 

Alright, and you mentioned there's that 30-day limit. So is that sort of the duration of treatment? Or how does that correlate with the services that you provide?

Nathan Carter 12:48 

You know, we've kind of used that as an initial guideline, but we're certainly going to be flexible with, you know, people  care might look different, might look longer, might look shorter. So while we kind of have used 30 days as our standard in the way we talk about it, you know, we're flexible with any client situation. But hopefully, as we're, you know, finding this temporary care for their pets and people are seeking treatments, then they're going to be on the road to recovery and getting better.

Theresa Freed 13:20 

Perfect. Okay. And can you talk a little bit about how people can get involved with that program?

Nathan Carter 13:25 

Yeah, absolutely. So if anyone listening is interested in getting involved in helping people and pets in our area, there's really two great ways to do that. One, you can actually sign up to be a pet caregiver. So the success of the service relies on having a network of people who can provide safe, loving, temporary homes for pets. Some of those foster homes donate their services, but others actually charge a rate and use their service to generate additional income. Either way, there's actually right now, BestyBnB, if you sign up to be a pet caregiver on their website, they've given us a promo code, helpjcmhc. And if you enter that promo code when you sign up to be a pet caregiver, BestyBnB will actually cover the cost of your background check. Like I mentioned previously, you know, these homes are trained, vetted. So the the background check is a part of that. And typically the pet caregiver would pay for that portion. But they're actually going to cover the cost. So it's a perfect time to get started if you're interested in helping out and keeping some pets in your home on a temporary basis. And then the second piece would be, you can also donate to support these foster pets, so in addition to covering the cost for these pets to stay in foster homes, Friends of Johnson County Mental Health Center will also be covering things like supplies, food, medicine, carriers for transportation. That's a big piece is a lot of times our staff is assisting with transportation between a client and a foster home. So there's a lot of times we're buying carriers to transport pets. So you can go to And you can actually make a donation that is directed towards helping the foster pets.

Theresa Freed 15:21 

Alright, that's some great information. And as we wrap up, Michelle, again, if you want to say one more time where people can get information about the reading program.

Michelle Ranney 15:29 

The one thing I forgot to say was our website, obviously,, as all of our events and all of our resources, as well as our printed guide that goes out to residents in Johnson County, and you can pick up at the library as well. And then also, if you wanted to actually help with KC Pets for Life, you can go to their website at And click on How to Volunteer, and they have lots of opportunities as well. I know that they would love for more people to be involved in their organization as well.

Theresa Freed 16:03 

Alright, perfect. Thank you both so much for being here today. We appreciate all the information. And hopefully we've got some listeners who are interested in getting involved one way or another. So before we completely wrap up, I just wanted to share some news with our listeners. I've been hosting the JoCo on the Go podcast since August 2019. And we've had more than 140 episodes, lots and lots of listeners and followers. And I appreciate each and every one of you for taking the time to learn more about Johnson County. This is actually going to be my last podcast episode as I move on from the county, and so I'm going to invite on Jody Hanson. She's our Communications, Public Affairs and Communications Director to say a few words.

Jody Hanson 16:47 

Hi, everybody. Thank you so much for letting me join you today. I just wanted the opportunity to thank Theresa. Like she said, I think this is episode number 146 that you're all recording with her today. So that's very admirable. The first episode was August 5, 2019. Theresa, I didn't know if you remembered what your first topic was?

Theresa Freed 17:10 

I do. I think it was Johnson County Park and Recreation District. I can't remember what we were talking about. But it was the summertime. So something outdoors, I'm sure.

Jody Hanson 17:18 

Yeah, exactly right. That was exactly the topic. I just checked our website today. Over 38,000 downloads overall for all the podcasts. Theresa also incorporated a webcast so you can watch it on YouTube. And we would not have this podcast if it wasn't for Theresa. When she interviewed for the role she's in, Director of Communications, she voiced this idea. And so we were lucky enough to hire her, and then she was able to within a year to launch this podcast. She is the heart and soul of JoCo on the Go. However, we do plan to continue it after she's no longer doing the podcast. And I just wanted to say on behalf of the rest of the team and organization, thanks Theresa so much for not only this podcast, but all of your work with the county, and all of us wish her luck on her next adventure.

Theresa Freed 18:02 

Aw, thank you so much, Jody, I appreciate that. It was definitely an amazing opportunity. It's very special that a county would take up actually doing a podcast, because government podcasts are a little bit unheard of, and they're growing now I think thanks to ours. No, I'm just kidding. I don't know that. But certainly we were demonstrating some innovation within the region. And I thank all of the people who have participated over these years sharing content and information with our listeners. I know it's been a great way for people to kind of learn more about the county and get involved with the county in a lot of different ways. So I appreciate that. The county gave me the opportunity to continue my broadcast efforts in this way. But again, thank you, Jody, thank you both again for being on the episode today. And thank you all for listening.

Announcer 18:54 

You just heard JoCo on the Go. Join us next time for more everything Johnson County. Have a topic you want to discuss? We want to hear from you. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter at jocogov. For more on this podcast, visit Thanks for listening.

County Manager's Office