Our partners at Pet Partners are pros at harnessing the beauty and power of our love for animals to improve lives and help us heal. In fact, they are the national leader in demonstrating and promoting the health and wellness benefits of animal-assisted therapy, activities, and education. In her recent guest blog for AAPP, Dr. Taylor Chastain Griffin–the National Director of Animal-Assisted Interventions (AAI) Advancement–explains the numerous benefits of this kind of therapy–both for the therapy teams (consisting of outgoing pets and their humans), as well as for everyone they interact with and serve. As they explain on their website, “Pet Partners teams visit with patients in recovery, people with intellectual disabilities, seniors living with Alzheimer’s, students, veterans with PTSD, people who have experienced crisis events, and those approaching end of life, with the goal of improving human health and well-being through the human-animal bond”. Pretty incredible, right?
Jesse Haas, guest blogger, serves as the National Director of Programs at Pet Partners. Read more to find out if you and your pet are good candidates for this pet-tastic program!
Do You and Your Pet Have What it Takes to Be a Dynamic Therapy Duo?
–by Jesse Hass
Our therapy animals–which come in 9 different species!–are treasured pets who have lots of extra love to give. When they volunteer with their humans, they are able to share joy and their unique healing qualities with others. Therapy animals offer tremendous physical, psychological, and emotional benefits to those they interact with, and these interactions typically happen in facility settings such as healthcare, assisted living, and schools. Therapy animals have no special rights of access in public settings, transportation or housing–except at the invitation of the facilities where they volunteer or visit–so most facilities typically require that all therapy animals and their humans be affiliated with a national registry before they can volunteer. That’s where we come in.
Pet Partners is the nation’s most prestigious therapy animal registry with more than 10,000 teams (consisting of a handler and their pet) volunteering in all 50 states. Our emphasis on the human end of the leash is one of our organization’s most defining characteristics. As one of our volunteers beautifully articulates: “A dog cannot be a therapy dog without a person beside them, as a team. The bond as a therapy team grows stronger over the years, making an impact on so many lives”.
Therefore, we strive to set the human up for as much success as possible in their role because it ensures interactions are safe and effective. To that end, we provide training for pet parents to help guide you.
We also want to make sure that animals enjoy volunteering, and that it fits their personalities and skill sets. If you are considering our program, please ask yourself whether your animal…
- Actively welcomes, not just tolerates, interactions with new people
- Exhibits confidence in new environments
- Is well behaved when meeting strangers
- Tolerates bathing and grooming (therapy animals need more bathing than your average pet)
- Has basic obedience skills even when distracted – we look for species-appropriate skills
- Moves nicely on a leash, even when encountering other animals
If you answered yes to all of these and believe you and your pet are a good fit for this role, you must complete our required coursework, submit documentation from a veterinarian, and complete a Pet Partners Team Evaluation. The latter involves 26 exercises that assess not only your animal’s obedience skills, but also your teamwork style and abilities as you move through simulations of a therapy animal visit.
I hope the above provided a solid introduction to Pet Partners and therapy animal volunteerism, but please visit our website for more information. Finally, because the human-animal bond drives so many pet parents to get involved in their communities with their animals, I want to end with a story about Fiona, a registered Pet Partners dog, as written by her handler, Jean:
We were at an ultra-accessible theme park. Fiona and I approached a family with a nonverbal teenage boy and his family. The boy drew away at first, but Fiona stood like a statue while the other family members pet her. After observing his family, the boy touched Fiona twice, quickly. Then he reached out to stroke her back, while she remained completely still. When finished petting her, he signed, “Thank you,” to Fiona and me and left laughing. His mother thanked us also and said we had made her son’s day. This experience was such a powerful example of the human-animal connection.
If you and your pet are not ideal candidates for animal volunteerism, you can still support us through donations or by spreading the word about our program.