Getting Started with Pet Partners
Muka and me visiting with a patient
Introduction to Therapy Animals
This page provides an overview of therapy animal work:
Introduction to Therapy Animals
It covers how therapy animals heal, the various types of facilities in which they serve, and many other interesting topics.
You may also be interested in the answers to these frequently asked questions:
Can a therapy dog visit my relative?
Can I take my therapy dog to work with me?
Pet Partners Video
This video presents an overview of the Pet Partners Therapy Animal Program:
Lillian and Peanut
Carefully review the criteria for prospective therapy animals and handlers on the Pet Partners website:
And before going any further, you should also carefully read:
Pet Partners Therapy Animal Program Policies and Procedures
This video discusses acceptable and unacceptable equipment (leashes, collars, harnesses and brushes) for use on visits and during your evaluation:
The Handler Course is the first step for anyone interested in volunteering with their pet. It fulfills the handler training required to continue on to the Pet Partners Team Evaluation and registration.
The course provides the information and training necessary to prepare you to volunteer effectively with your animal as a Pet Partners therapy animal team in a variety of environments.
The Handler Course may be taken either on-line or in an in-person workshop. The $70 on-line course is self-paced, and you can take it over a day, weekend or a few weeks.
At the conclusion of either course, you must pass an on-line test in order to receive your certificate of completion. You can study further and re-take the test if necessary.
You do not have to be capable of passing the Team Evaluation (next topic) before you enroll in the Handler Course. In fact, very often people take the course when their animals are still very young to better understand what they have to work toward.
Sign up for the On-Line Handler Course: To sign up for the on-line course, go to Create a Volunteer Account on the Pet Partners' website. After registering, when signed-in go to Volunteer Center > Training Center > My Content to sign up.
Find an In-Person Handler Course: To find an in-person course in your area, go to the Pet Partners' website and click on Volunteer > Calendar of Events. You can simply scroll down the calendar, or first apply filters such as State, City, and Search Events by Title, then click on Apply Filters.
This video provides a demonstration of a Pet Partners evaluation and will give you an idea of how an evaluation is conducted. Total playtime is 16 minutes.
After taking the Handler Course, you may find How to Prepare for a Pet Partners Evaluation helpful. It discusses steps you can take to prepare for your evaluation, and presents tips to help you avoid common mistakes.
Find a Team Evaluation: To find an evaluation in your area, go to the Pet Partners' website and click on Volunteer > Calendar of Events. You can simply scroll down the calendar, or first apply filters such as State, City, and Search Events by Title, then click on Apply Filters.
Community Partners are groups of registered volunteers who serve a specific geographic area or facility. An example would be Columbia River Pet Partners, which serves the greater Portland, OR / Vancouver, WA area.
Their primary activity is reaching out to people with big hearts, a little spare time and a well-behaved animal, and helping them through the process of becoming registered therapy animal teams serving their communities.
Community Partners provide camaraderie and the means to accomplish more by working with other teams in your area. They also provide a source of information about your community, including knowledge of which facilities have requested visiting teams.
Note, however, that even if you join a local Community Partner, and even if they provide your Handler Course and Team Evaluation, you must register as a Pet Partners therapy animal team with Pet Partners national.
You can search to see if there is a Community Partner in your area here:
Pet Partners Community Partner Groups
Are You Ready to Begin?
Bowing our heads in a surgery waiting room, a popular request
Working the waiting room of a hospital, a man asked me about signing up to join us with his dog. He seemed very interested, so I spent 10 minutes talking to him about therapy dog work. I was excited to possibly be recruiting him.
Then he told me that he'd inquired at another hospital, and said they were "ridiculous." They wanted him to go through an orientation class, and he'd have none of that!
What was he thinking? Should just anyone, even a registered therapy animal team, be able to wander through a hospital visiting patients without first learning about the hospital layout, volunteer procedures, disease prevention and patient privacy regulations?
While it might be a much simpler process to start making visits to your mom's retirement home, in order to help people through therapy animal work you and your animal have to be trained, evaluated, registered, and then become a volunteer for the facility you will be visiting as well as a volunteer for Pet Partners.
I don't mean to discourage you, but it's important that you realize all that is involved in the process before you make the decision to begin.
Below you will find lists of attributes that make a great team. But you don't need to have all these attributes at the time you begin your journey. In fact, often students take the Handler Course when their dogs are only puppies. What is important is that you are confident that you know what is ahead, and that you are dedicated to completing the process.
Muka began work as a therapy dog before he was two
Attributes of a Great Therapy Animal
Controllable, predictable and reliable, even with distractions
Friendly and confident
People-oriented and sociable such that they enjoy visiting
Comfortable being crowded by a group of people and touched, sometimes awkwardly
Non-aggressive and well-mannered with both people and other animals
Will initiate contact, and yet respects personal boundaries
Able to be redirected on cue, including being directed away from people and objects
Able to cope with stressful situations
Comfortable around health care equipment
The animal must also have the following essential skills:
Walk on a leash without pulling
Take treats nicely
The animal must also have the following good manners:
No jumping on people or furniture
Minimal if any vocalizing, stoppable on cue
Minimal if any licking, stoppable on cue
Can walk past other animals without displaying aggression or excessive fear
Refrains from intrusive behaviors (nosing around)
Pukalu may be ready for therapy dog work around age 40
Attributes of a Great Therapy Animal Handler
Willing to make commitments and keep them
Interested in people
Friendly, making eye contact and smiling
Good communicators with their animal, facility staff, and the people they meet during visits
Confident and natural in their interactions
A good listener
Demonstrates a loving relationship with their animal
A proactive advocate for their animal, watching for signs of stress and taking actions to control the situation
Prepares themselves and their animal appropriately for each visit
Knows how to help their animal be at its best in serving others
This video presents an overview of our work at Legacy Salmon Creek Hospital.