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The Foundation for Pet Provided Therapy, also known as Love on a Leash, certifies and registers therapy pets nationwide. They have 37 chapters across the country, and while dogs comprise the majority of their therapy pets, cats and rabbits can also become therapy animals.
To be certified and registered, all animals have to be at least a year old and have basic obedience training. Each team must meet the following requirements:
1. Control evaluation
All pets must be evaluated for temperament and obedience. A veterinarian can evaluate cats and rabbits, while a certified obedience instructor, behaviorist, professional dog trainer, or veterinarian can evaluate dogs.
“We prefer someone certified to perform the [AKC] Canine Good Citizen [test] but realize that some of our members are in remote areas of the country [and] still want to do therapy work with their pets, so [we] allow for others to do the control evaluation in those situations,” says Bonnie Biggs, board vice president of Love on a Leash.
You have one year from the date of your control evaluation to complete 10 hours of supervised visits. There is a max of one hour per day that can be counted, and the same person must do at least five of the visits. If there is no Love on a Leash member in your area to supervise you, an approved substitute can be found. This evaluator must be different form your control evaluator.
2. Submit visit evaluation form
The person who supervised at least five of your visits should fill out this form for you and send it back to Love on a Leash.
3. Complete membership application
If you’ve passed each evaluation, you can submit the membership application with two photos of your pet and the required fees (starting at $20). After a few weeks you will hear back about your acceptance as a team.
Once you are a registered and certified therapy team, you can visit any facility interested in having therapy pets. Animals, including cats and rabbits, need to be kept on a leash at all times during visits.
Upon deciding you want to become a therapy animal team, think about whether you have a specific place you'd like to volunteer, like your local hospital or your children's school. Different locations are likely to have diverse requirements for their therapy animal program, so you'll want to confirm that they allow registered or certified therapy teams to volunteer, as well as whether they're affiliated with a specific therapy animal organization.
While Love on a Leash registers and certifies teams to go into any facility allowing therapy animals, that's not always the case. Pet Partners offers a directory of locations registered teams can log into with a list of facilities actively looking for volunteers, although you're not limited to only those choices. The Good Dog Foundation serves over 315 specific facilities in the Northeast, so if you become certified through them, you would have to go to one of their partners.
If you decide to become a therapy animal team, there’s no doubt you’ll positively affect those you visit and feel good doing it. Jackie Gunby, a Pet Partners instructor and therapy dog team member, says that therapy teams leave an impact physically, mentally and emotionally.
“It is absolutely the most rewarding part of my life,” says Gunby. “When we visit, the smiles and diversion from the day seem to melt away their pain, frustration and loneliness.”
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