Therapy animals are special to many

Her name was Katie. The first time I met the little border terrier, I knew she was special.

She walked with a manner of dignity and poise, yet approached me quite willingly, exhibiting an affectionate calmness. I could tell she was getting on in years from the gray hairs sprouting from her muzzle.

While her demeanor silently spoke of maturity graced with perceptive compassion, her soft brown eyes conveyed trust to those she encountered.

Katie was a certified therapy dog. Her caretakers took her to hospitals, rehabilitation centers and nursing homes to visit with patients and the elderly. Katie’s presence while visiting with the residents of these facilities would convey affection and trust often elevating their morale.

Animal-assisted therapy (AAT) involves animals interacting with people to help them overcome physical, social and emotional disabilities. Dogs, cats, horses, fish, birds and even small critters such as hamsters and guinea pigs are used in therapy in a wide array of situations.

These creatures portray a non-judgmental companionship offering solace and interaction without prejudice or expectations. As agents of compassion, many animals can break the barrier of social inadequacies that result from injury, solitude or abuse.

While there are many animal therapy organizations that offer training and certification, the most acclaimed is the Pet Partners program backed by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) and the American Humane Society.

According topetpartners.org, the program was established to train “both ends of the leash” in preparing animals and their caretakers in animal-assisted therapy programs. There are some prerequisites for both the pet and the handler to consider when contemplating the possibility of enrolling as a team.

Is your pet sociable, friendly and confident? Does it know basic commands and can it be controlled or redirected in stressful situations? Is it non-aggressive toward other animals and people and is it comfortable being touched? For the human side, a considerate caring advocate for your animal is essential. Having the ability to control your pet in unusual circumstances while intuitively acknowledging and managing signs of stress is imperative. In addition, compassion and understanding for the people you are visiting is an essential component to the success of your team.

To complete the certification process through Pet Partners, the handler must complete a course either in person or online. Your pet must have a health evaluation completed by your veterinarian and be current on all vaccinations. You will then be evaluated on your human-animal team’s skills and aptitude. Once this is accomplished, you will register your team with the program which links volunteers with facilities in the local community.

This is an outstanding program to get involved in. The partnership between you and your animal can change people’s lives simply through interaction.

Do you have that special best friend that could help brighten the lives of others? Do you have some time to share your unique companion with children, the elderly, lonely or sick? I encourage you to do so.

These creatures that share our lives are truly amazing in their ability to heal without words. Too bad humans haven’t figured that out yet!

As for the little dog Katie, she was a ray of sunshine to all who knew her.

She has gone on to the next life, undoubtedly filling her role as “friend” to all she encounters.

Charlé Thibodeau has been passionate pet caregiver for more than 30 years. If you have a pets question you would like Thibodeau to answer in her column, email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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