Now that you and your show dog have decided to give therapy work a try you need to find a certifying organization. Rarely you can “go it alone” but via an organization you will find resources, insurance coverage and some credibility if you approach a new facility. There are many therapy dog organizations across the united States. We will touch on the “Big Three” that certify or register therapy dog teams.
Therapy Dogs International, commonly called TDI, was the first organization to organize therapy dogs on a grand scale. The group started up in New Jersey in 1976 with notable trainer Diane Bauman as one of the founders. As of 2012, there were almost 25,000 teams registered with TDI in all 50 states and parts of Canada.
TDI has its own evaluators, many who are also approved AKC CGC Evaluators. Dog clubs frequently organize tests. Dogs are not required to be retested unless there has been a question about behavior at a visit. Each dog and handler are tested as a unit – if multiple people might do visits with your dog, each team has to take the test separately.
In many areas, TDI has organized chapters. These groups set up visits, rotate teams and plan events for their members. It is certainly fun to do therapy visits with a support group!
Entering the scene in 1990 was Therapy Dogs, Inc. This group currently has about 12,000 dog and handler teams working in the US and Canada. TD Inc has a test that looks at both handler and dog on its review sheets. After passing the initial test, the team will be observed on three visits to be sure they work well in the facility.
Both TDI and TD Inc provide wonderful newsletters for their members as well as other resources. There are health requirements, which heavily stress zoonotic problems (health problems that dogs and people can share such as some parasites). Dogs must provide annual updates on their health status including fecal examinations.
These organizations provide ID cards and identifying patches, bandanas, etc so that a facility knows who is attending and that the dogs are certified.
Much of the above information also applies to the third organization of the Big Three. Pet Partners, formerly part of the Delta Society, has many of the same requirements but can be more stringent. You as the handler are required to pass an online course and ideally will also attend a workshop in person if possible. Your testing will emphasize your people skills and also reading your dog to pick up on any stress, etc. Therapy visits can be exhausting. Facilities are often warm and even the most social dog can be tired out from interacting with new people, many of whom are stressed themselves.
Pet Partners does vary from both TDI and TD Inc in that they include a wide variety of pets. If you have a social cat who wants to join your show dog on visits, you will need to go through Pet Partners for your cat. Pet Partners does not allow pets eating raw food in their program due to health concerns for immunocompromised people. Pet Partners also has affiliate groups for you to join if you choose.
Another very important group for therapy dogs is Angel On a Leash. Think of this group as a facilitator. Angel on a Leash does not run its own certification or registration program for therapy dogs but acts as a clearinghouse to match therapy dogs and facilities. Think of them as working backwards – they take a facility and match up dogs vs taking dogs and matching them to a facility. Angel on a Leash has done a fabulous job promoting show dogs as the ultimate in therapy dogs via their connections with Westminster Kennel Club. Angel On A Leash actually began as a charitable activity for the Westminster Kennel Club in 2004 but grew so quickly that it became its own independent charity under the direction of David Frei. They work with facilities all over the country.
In addition to these national groups, there are many local or semi local therapy dog organizations. Ask around at veterinary offices, dog training clubs and kennel clubs for local options for therapy certifications and work.
I think you will find all areas of therapy dog visits to be wonderful outlets for you and your dog. You are sharing your wonderful canine companion and making a difference in someone’s life. I would like to end this series with one of my most heart wrenching but good visits.
I was tutoring a high school student in a variety of subjects. For the high school I used my macho, very cool male Belgian Tervuren, Beep (CH Chiron’s Coyote Dreams UDT HIAs NAJ OA). The student we were working with had recently transferred to our district. You know how hard that can be on a teenager. After we worked a bit, I had him put Beep through utility signals and then told him that he could walk Beep through the halls for a few minutes to clear both of their brains.
As he walked down the halls, both boys and girls came over to ask about Beep and pet him. I watched from afar but all was going well. When the boy returned to the room we were working in, he looked at me and said that more people had spoken to him in the last 10 minutes than in the entire 3 months of school so far. Beep broke the barriers for him. I am very proud of all of Beep’s accomplishments but that one afternoon stands out as a golden memory for me.