Let’s get one thing straight: your dog (or cat, pig, llama, etc.) is awesome. But does he or she have what it takes to be a therapy animal?
We talked to Glenna Mockbee, executive director and founder of Therapy Pets of Greater Cincinnati about what it takes to be a great therapy dog. If the U.S. Marine Corps is looking for “the few and the proud,” Mockbee is looking for the loving and the calm.
Unlike service animals, such as seeing-eye dogs, which are highly trained to perform specific tasks for individuals with disabilities, therapy pets don’t undergo rigorous training. What makes a great therapy animal, Mockbee says, has more to do with their temperament, the personality of their owner and how the two work together as a team.
“To make a great therapy team, you and your pet have to really love interacting with people,” she says.
How do you know if your pet is suitable for therapy work? He or she should:
- Be at least one year old and have an up-to-date vaccination record.
- Be healthy and have at least a basic level of training.
- Be reliable, predictable, calm and controllable, even in crowded or unexpected situations.
- Be outgoing, friendly and confident in new settings.
- Like being petted, touched and hugged.
- Solicit interactions with people actively.
Therapy Pets of Greater Cincinnati, the local affiliate of Pet Partners, registers therapy animal teams. To become registered, pet owners must attend a day-long workshop to learn about the skills needed to safely visit hospitals and other facilities. Owners complete an application packet and are then evaluated with their animals. Teams that pass the test are credentialed through Pet Partners and work with a mentor for at least two visits before visiting a hospital, school or care facility on their own, Mockbee says.
While the term “therapy animal” often conjures images of soulful-eyed Golden Retrievers and friendly Labs – dogs are, by far, the most common therapy animals – Mockbee says she’s worked with cats, rats, miniature ponies and chinchillas. In the end, she says, it’s not about the breed or the species; it’s about an animal and its handler wanting to work together to make others feel better.
“They both really have to want to be there,” she says.
Do you think you and your pet would make a great therapy team? Attend the Pet Partner Workshop at St. Elizabeth Florence on October 22 from 9:30 a.m. – 4 p.m. to learn more about the program. Advance registration is required. Contact Susan to register or for more details.