Can I take my therapy dog to work with me?

Pet Partners handlers volunteering at a school, wearing their ID tags and with their dogs on leashes. Photo courtesy Prescription Pets

The answer depends on the policies of the organization that has registered your therapy dog. For Pet Partners, the organization I register my therapy dog with, the answer is no. You can't take your therapy dog to work under the auspices of Pet Partners, and you wouldn't be covered by Pet Partners insurance if you did. Our visits are all made as volunteers.

However, many people still register their dogs with Pet Partners so that their employers will allow them to take their dogs to work. To understand this, let's begin by looking at three Pet Partners policies:

1. Handlers Can't Be Receiving Pay during the Time They Are Visiting with Clients:  All Pet Partners visits are made by volunteers, and if a handler is "on the clock," receiving compensation, they can't be visiting under the auspices of Pet Partners with Pet Partners insurance coverage.

2. Two-hour Visit Limit:  A Pet Partners team may visit a maximum of two hours per day.

Why the two-hour limit? That's what I asked after raising my puppy with long Saturday afternoons at our busy park. We'd walk and play and visit with other families for many hours and did just fine. I didn't understand the two-hour limit until I started visiting clients.

At the park, I'd often followed my dog's interests. But at the hospital where we volunteer, I'm in strict control from the moment we arrive to the moment we leave. We go only where I decide we should go, and visit only the people I decide we should visit.

My dog loves to say hello to everyone in a waiting room, but there are always a few who are not interested. And when I plop him down on a bed, as soon as his feet hit the barrier (a sheet placed on the bed just for the visit) I may discover that he's uncomfortable with the patient for some inexplicable reason. He'll turn his head up to me with that "get me out of here" look.

All this is very stressful for a dog, and I have found that it's often just before the two-hour mark that my dog starts to show signs of stress. Those who do take their dogs to work for the day often avoid this stress by allowing their dogs to roam freely. But this is also in conflict with Pet Partners' policy.

3. Dogs Must Be On-leash:  When a team is visiting under the auspices of Pet Partners, the dog must be on-leash with the leash being held by the handler at all times, something obviously impractical for a working employee.

Okay then, if handlers can't take their dogs to work under the auspices of Pet Partners, why do they register them with Pet Partners?

I'll answer that question with a few examples:

 Teachers and School Counselors:  I very frequently hear of teachers who take their dogs to school and let them hang out in their classroom all day long. And school counselors who let their dogs hang out in their offices. These dogs are generally off-leash, and so able to avoid stressful situations at will.

Clearly these individuals and their dogs are not working as Pet Partners teams, but the employers have asked that the dogs be registered as a means of screening.

 Therapists:  Similarly, a therapist may register their dog for the purpose of screening in order to satisfy an employer, insurance company or patients that it's safe to have the animal accompany them while they are serving their clients. But they cannot be working as a Pet Partners team while receiving compensation.

 Law Enforcement Officer:  In addition to his regular work, an officer volunteers in a support group that visits officers who have been injured in the line of duty, or their families. The officer registered his dog with Pet Partners so that his organization would accept it as being qualified for therapy dog work.

In practice, most of the officer's work with the support group falls during his regular work hours. Because he is being compensated, he is not able to do this work under the auspices of Pet Partners, nor is he covered by Pet Partners insurance. But this is fine with his organization, which provides its own insurance coverage.

When the officer makes these visits on weekends and other times he's not being compensated, he visits under the auspices of Pet Partners.