Have you heard of animal-assisted therapy (AAT)? It’s where animals and humans join forces to provide comfort and happiness to people who may need it. There are tens of thousands of therapy animal teams in the US and Canada, and it’s not just limited to dogs--teams can include cats, horses, birds, pigs and even llamas!
The effects of AAT can be almost miraculous. For example, Paulette (human) and Sophie (Newfoundland dog) were on a hospice visit. When they arrived at the facility, the nurses said that it would probably be a waste of time because the patient hadn’t been speaking (by choice) since her arrival. But Paulette and Sophie went into the room anyway, and Paulette said to the patient, "If you hate dogs or want me to leave, give me a nod. Otherwise we're just going to sit right here for a little while." They all sat in silence for an entire hour, with Sophie at Paulette’s feet. Then they left.
A few days later, Paulette and Sophie returned. When they walked into the room, the patient exclaimed, "The lady with the dog! Come sit down and tell me your name." No one was more surprised than the nurses at the patient’s enthusiasm, and everyone (including Sophie!) was smiling at the end of the visit.
There are many benefits of becoming a therapy team. The training that you and your dog go through is a great bonding experience. Once qualified, your visits can be the highlight of someone’s week and can mean the world to people in confined or limited situations.
Think you have what it takes? Consider the following:
Your dog will need to be controllable, reliable and predictable; pass a comprehensive health screening and pass multi-part skill and aptitude tests.
You will also have to pass multi-part skill and aptitude tests; be comfortable working in environments such as hospitals, assisted-living facilities, retirement homes, and rehab centers, and be willing to commit to regular visits at certain facilities.
Want to take the next step? Check out the following organizations:
Jaime Migdal is the founder and CEO of Fetchfind, a talent recruitment and services organization dedicated to the pet industry.