Therapy Animals

“Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.” ~ Roger Caras


Definition: Therapy Animals are pets that have the right temperament to interact with a wide variety of people. Therapy Animals can be a dog, cat, bird, rabbit, horse or other animals accepted by the Therapy Animal organization you choose. However, the majority of Therapy animals are dogs.

Legal Classification: Pet. A Therapy Animal along with his/her handler has passed a Therapy Animal organizations’ testing. Most organizations will then consider the team to be Registered (not Certified) as having passed their requirements. Therapy Animal teams are invited in by organizations when there is a mutual benefit; the Team gets to work together visiting people (AAA) or aiding physical therapy (AAT) under the supervision of a medical professional, while adding a new, and nonjudgmental, dimension to their time together.

Requirements to Qualify: A willingness to offer your time as a volunteer and have a well-behaved, friendly animal that’s happy to travel and visit a variety of people. The handler will most likely be asked to attend a training program. Then the handler and the pet will be asked to pass a test. If both the handler and the animal pass then you will, with the help of the sponsoring organization, find a good mix for your schedule, your time limitation and that’s a good fit for both you and your pet.

Training: In most cases, if you and your dog can pass the AKC’s Canine Good Citizen® (CGC) Program test, then there is a good chance that your dog will pass the Therapy Animal Organization’s testing. Organizational testing for Therapy animals other than dogs, will be similar to the testing for dogs.

If you don’t pass on the first try don’t give up. It can be helpful to go through the test even once, regardless of results. You and your dog will know more going intothe second test. Also, we both humans and animals have good and bad days.

Intermountain Therapy Animals Volunteering at Special Olympics Montana



Animal Assisted Activities (AAA): Therapy animals and their handlers are invited into schools, hospitals, nursing homes and other places to assist in a variety of activities.

  • In schools Therapy Animals can assist in a children’s reading program. Studies have found that children who are reading below grade level have increased their reading skills and confidence.
  • Libraries often invite teams in on weekend mornings to allow children who want to read to the animals a chance to do so.
  • Hospital patients benefit from visiting with Therapy Animals in their rooms or as they go through the process of chemotherapy or dialysis.
  • Nursing Home residents often enjoy neighborly visits from a Therapy Animal and his/her handler.

    Scott Baggett & La Vie provide joy to a patient.

  • Special Events often ask Therapy Animal teams (handler and animal) to join in a parade, beavailable to participants in the Special Olympics at a state or local event or
  • In times of crisis, perhaps a devastating storm or raging fire that has displaced people from their homes and/or families, students and faculty at a school that has had an accident affecting a number of students, or a suicide or other unexpected death, Therapy Animal teams are asked to come in to support the people still living to deal with the crisis at hand.


Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT):

  • People who have a recovery period after an illness, accident or hospital stay are often aided by Therapy Animals. There is evidence of people who are having to adjust to life in a wheel chair or walker not onlysticking to their physical therapy schedules but who go even further than the doctors or physical therapists ever imagined.
  • The types of tasks a dog might be involved in is having the patient throw a ball, tie a bandana around the dogs neck, buckle and unbuckle a collar, pick up a leash and walk with a dog. For most of us these are simple, everyday activities. But for the physically injured many daily tasks must be re-learned.
  • Is routinely provided in a variety of medical settings, including inpatient psychiatric wards and therapists’ offices (Granger et al., 2000). Research demonstrates its efficacy at helping withdrawn children speak (Law and Scott, 1995; Levinson, 1964), nursing home residents socialize (Fick, 1993; Winkler et al., 1989), and anxious patients relax (Barker and Dawson,1998). –


Conclusion: Often, the simple presence of an animal can lift someone’s spirits or provide them with a spark of life that might not have touched them otherwise. Some organizations have recognized the value of animals in recovery and are excited to have a Therapy Animal team come on a consistent basis.

CLICK TO ENLARGE. Therapy Animals assisting children in Juvenile Court Cases

A newer use for therapy animals is taking place in the Courts and Justice Systems. Therapy animals made available to children who have been

traumatized and have to talk to a number of unknown adults about what happened to them. In some cases, young children have to appear in court and testify against their abuser, whether family or not.

An excellent Animals Supporting Kids (TASK) Program.

La Vie and Presley

“It is widely accepted that therapy animals can help individuals who have suffered physical or emotional trauma. The TASK Program takes this concept one step further and encourages child welfare

Who’s reading to whom?

professionals to incorporate therapy animals into sessions with children who have been abused or neglected or have witnessed violence. When children have suffered trauma, it is often difficult for them to speak of their experiences. Incorporating a therapy animal into the process can help a child open up and promote the healing process.”

“The TASK Program was created to provide guidance to child welfare professionals, attorneys and prosecutors, child protection workers, social workers, police officers, and any other professionals who work with children who have been maltreated and could benefit from involvement with therapy animals.”

For a detailed manual on how to set up a Therapy Animals Supporting Kids (TASK) program, click the link above then scroll down on that page until you see “Click the image above to download a free TASK manual” and it will open up for you. It is a very detailed manual and will answer many of your questions about setting up a similar program in your community.

Faith & Zoe hosting a pit bull workshop at the Seattle Humane Society’s Animal Adventures Day Camp.



Therapy Animals in Social Work

Hunka at the Hospital


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