Pet Therapy: What It Is & How Pets Get Certified

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October 24, 2013
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Pet therapy is becoming more and more popular as an additional or alternate channel to helping people heal from various physical, emotional, or mental ailments. It’s also used to help people who may have learning disabilities, might be going through a tough period of time, or live with someone for life to enhance their well-being. There are many, many ways that pet therapy programs help people.

What is pet therapy?

It’s an umbrella term for animals (cats, dogs, horses, ponies, pigs, etc) who are used to help people’s health and well-being. Most commonly, when someone says, “pet therapy” they mean animal-assisted therapy where someone brings their certified pet to a facility to visit with the patients there.

There are many studies and news articles that talk about the benefits of owning a pet, and this is the next best thing. Imagine being in a hospital or nursing home and you’re not doing well, maybe you have some chronic pain in your leg and you’re just bummed out. Now, imagine that you are asked if you’d like to meet “Randy,” a black lab who is visiting patients and you agree. After petting Randy for a few minutes and seeing the tail wagging, nudge of a wet nose on your hand, and maybe even sitting for a treat you smile and laugh a little. After Randy moves on to visit some of the other patients you find yourself feeling a little better, not as down, and not focused on what’s wrong but rather, focusing on the dog that you just got to pet. That, in a simple example, is what pet therapy can be like.

Some pets who are certified to be animal-assistants will work with people who are going through physical rehab and walking a dog is part of the routine, increasing the distance a little more each time. Patients who are unable to get out of bed may be visited by smaller critters like a kitten or rabbit. There are some dolphins who are certified as animal-assisted therapy animals!

How do pets become certified?

Many towns and cities have pet therapy programs available to them through their local humane society. Attending pet events and visiting the different vendors may also help you find a program and organization that certifies pets for pet therapy.

The one trait that many pets need to have – be ok with meeting multiple types of people and remaining calm even if the people they meet aren’t (like excited children). There are other personality traits that are desired like a good listener, knows commands, and laid back.

Here are some programs that certify pets to be pet therapy dogs, cats, etc. If you think your pet might make a great pet therapy pet, check out the requirements and other information. Then see if there’s an organization in your area!

A Few Pet Therapy Programs In the US

Pet Partners – online courses and information about volunteering.
San Diego Humane Society – located in California
Humane Society of Forsyth County – located in Georgia
Seton Hospital’s Pet Therapy Program – located in Texas
Animal Rescue League of Iowa – located in Des Moines, Iowa

Image from GoFundMe

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