What is all the hype about Therapy Dogs? If you are curious, this will answer many of your questions.
Volunteers take their dogs (or other approved animal) to visit schools, hospitals, nursing homes, libraries, airports or any facility where interactions with dogs will be beneficial for people. It has been shown in studies, that petting and talking to a dog can lower blood pressure and reduce stress and anxiety in people. During a visit, people are encouraged to interact with the therapy dog by petting it, holding it, brushing it, or watching it perform tricks or an obedience routine.
The owner and therapy dog are a team and must work well together. The handler must want to be a part of the therapy too. Being part of a therapy team takes time and commitment. Things one should ask: Do I have time to train my dog for this job? Do I have time for visiting (there are time requirements)? In what kind of setting would I like to volunteer (hospitals and nursing homes can be a downer –kids in libraries could be fun)? Is my dog also suited for that environment (does my dog like people and attention)? Is this something my dog would sincerely enjoy?
Any breed of dog can be a therapy dog. The Alliance of Therapy Dogs requires dogs to be at least one year old, healthy and well-mannered. What does this mean? If you bring your dog into a hospital where there are fragile people, it certainly can’t jump up on important equipment or frail people! You may need to ride in an elevator. Your dog will need to be calm around all kinds of distractions and strange smells. Dogs need to allow strangers to touch them all over and need to walk well on a leash and be friendly to other dogs. It is more important that your dog is happy and well-adjusted than have “obedience” skills. Training is always beneficial, but it is not required of a therapy dog. There are specific facilities that require even more than the registering organizations. For instance, Wolfson’s Children’s Hospital requires that dogs are at least two years old, are spayed or neutered and have passed a Canine Good Citizen exam, pass the Wolfson’s vet health and temperament/behavior screening, and the team must complete the initial training visits successfully. This is a commitment –not a whim! There are additional requirements for the human half of the team also –again, be sure to do your research into what job you want to work with your dog before going to the trouble of registering or you may just get frustrated.
If you are interested in finding out more about becoming a therapy team with your dog, you can get information in a number of ways. Most organizations that welcome therapy dogs have information about their requirements on their websites. There are three organizations with which you can register your dog: Pet Partners, Alliance of Therapy Dogs, and Therapy Dogs International. It is necessary to register with an organization, because this proves to the facility administration that you have been tested and are covered under their liability insurance. The insurance only covers the people you visit from illness or injury from contact with your dog. It is important to know that this insurance does NOT cover members who use their dogs in their workplace while being paid. A therapy dog is a volunteer that provides therapeutic contact to others –not the owner of the dog.
Here are some numbers and websites to get you started:
Alliance of Therapy Dogs 877-843-7364 www.therapydogs.com
Pet Partners www.petpartnersjax.com 425-679-5500
www.communityhospice.com Chris Whitney 904-407-5204
Baptist Medical Center Beaches Janice Kiernan at Janice.firstname.lastname@example.org or 904-627-2910
Wolfson’s Auxilliary office 904-202-8008
ourthouse Pet Therapy Program (Duval County) Judge Senterfitt at 904-255-1270 or Sylvia Osewalt at 904-923-0416
ortheast Florida Therapy Animals www.NEFTAgroup.org