5 steps for registering your pet to be a pet therapy animal

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boy and horseDo you want to work with your pet to help others?

Perhaps you want to visit nursing home or hospice facility residents with your dog or cat. Maybe you want to bring your dog in to help people perform occupational therapy tasks. You might even want to incorporate your pet to help military veterans deal with post-traumatic stress disorder.

To bring your pet into institutions or facilities in order to provide animal assisted therapy, both you and your animal have to be evaluated for readiness for this kind of work and environment, and you have to be registered as a team.

It takes effort – it’s not as simple as filling out a form and writing a check – but the time spent will be well worth it for you and the people you hope to serve.

Here’s an overview of the process to follow.

  1. Select the organization that will register you and your pet.

Start the process with a professional organization that will oversee the human-animal team registration process. Here are three options:

  1. Make sure you and your pet qualify.

Animals – dogs, cats, horses, rabbits, guinea pigs, llamas, birds, pigs, rats – must meet several requirements. For example, they must:

  • Welcome and enjoy interactions with strangers
  • Be at least one year old when evaluated (or six months old for rabbits, guinea pigs, and rats), house-trained, and vaccinated against rabies (except rabbits, guinea pigs, birds, and rats)
  • Have lived in your home for at least six months (one year for birds)
  • Have no history of aggressive behavior and haven’t seriously injured people or animals
  • Demonstrate good basic obedience skills that include responding to common commands

As the human in this duo, you also have to meet certain requirements. For example, you must be able to:

  • Demonstrate that you can interact positively with your animal with reassurance, praise, or encouragement as needed
  • Know your pet well enough to recognize and be objective when he is stressed, tired, overwhelmed, and so on, and be able to respond appropriately
  • Redirect your pet in a calm manner without doing things like jerking the leash or raising your voice
  • Guide how people and your pet interact with professionalism and politeness
  • Always make sure your pet is safe
  1. Get professional training.

Most of us don’t know how to interact with strangers in an institution or elsewhere instinctively, especially with our animal companions. That’s where professional training comes in. You’ll learn best practices for human-animal interaction.

Training is available online and in person. Oakland University offers an online Animal Assisted Therapy Certificate program; Pet Partners also offers online training.

  1. Get your pet’s paperwork in order from the vet.

Most registration programs will require you to submit an animal health form completed by your veterinarian.

  1. Get an in-person evaluation.

The final step is meeting with an evaluator in person. That professional will make sure that you and your pet work well as a team and that you meet the requirements that will keep everyone – you, your pet, and the people you assist – safe and healthy.

To find an evaluator in your area, use the tools on the PetPartners site or the Therapy Dogs International site.

Following these steps will lead you and your pet to any number of rewarding experiences helping others.

To learn more about animal assisted therapy, visit Oakland University’s animal assisted therapy website.

How do you plan to use your pet with others for pet therapy? Tell us about your pet and plans in a comment below.

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