FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
BECOMING A PET ASSISTED THERAPY TEAM
As you move closer to your decision to contact Best Friends Pet Assisted Therapy to learn more about our training and evaluation program, you will likely have a number of questions you’d like to have answered. It is our hope that this link will address many of those concerns.
WHAT is necessary to become a Best Friends Pet Assisted Therapy team?
The first step is to make contact with our organization using our cell phone (937) 215-9172 number or our e-mail. Jot down any specific questions or concerns you wish to discuss with our representative. Performing this exercise will ensure that your communication provides an optimum amount of information. Other questions/concerns may arise during the initial contact but sharing your thoughts first helps guide the direction of the message or phone conversation. The representative may provide you with an abundance of information but addressing your specific concerns will help you reach your decision more quickly.
WHAT restrictions, if any, does Best Friends have in regard to my pet?
So that you may comment with some insight about the behaviors and overall personality of your pet, we ask that you have shared a residence with your animal for at least 3 months. If you have recently purchased/adopted/rescued a pet, it’s beneficial for you and the pet to allow some time to let the animal become familiar with the new environment before attempting to begin a regimen such as obedience or pet assisted therapy training. There is also a minimum age requirement for testing with local and national pet therapy groups. Pets must be at least one year of age since prior to that time, they may still exhibit a number of inappropriate behaviors due to their lack of maturity.
WHAT is the cost to participate in the Best Friends Pet Assisted Therapy training sessions?
The cost of the orientation is free. However, if you want to join Best Friends Pet Assisted Therapy, the annual family membership dues are $25. Dues help to fund the orientation program. Part of your dues are used to print and publish a quarterly newsletter that is mailed to members to keep them informed of upcoming Best Friends events and activities.
WHY does Best Friends Pet Assisted Therapy use a national pet therapy organization for registration?
While the orientation staff of Best Friends Pet Assisted Therapy feels confident in preparing you and your pet for participation in this volunteer field, we believe that the national pet therapy groups provide superior liability insurance and enable you and your pet to practice in any of the fifty states. This can be particularly beneficial for college students and those individuals who spend the colder months of the year in a warmer climate.
WHEN are the sessions held?
Best Friends conducts four 3-week (consecutive Saturdays) sessions each year. We respond to requests in the months between the sessions but winter and summer sessions have proven to be difficult to schedule due to unpredictable weather & vacation trips.
HOW long are the sessions?
Each of the sessions lasts approximately two hours. During the instructional portion of that time, potential handlers receive instruction about standard protocol for therapy teams in facilities as well as ways to determine if/when their pet is stressed in a variety of situations. In the laboratory portion of the session, potential teams are exposed to unfamiliar animals and people as well as unfamiliar sights, sounds and other sensory input to observe pets’ responses.
HOW do I sign up for an upcoming session?
Once you have made the decision to pursue a volunteer career in pet assisted therapy, use the contact information to convey your interest to our representative. You will be asked to provide your name, address, e-mail address (if applicable), and phone number so that you can be registered for the next session. In the weeks before the start of the session, you will receive e-mails (or phone calls if you do not have Internet access) about time/date/location of the first session. We encourage handlers to bring along a blanket from home that will ease their pets’ initial anxiety about the situation. We discourage the use of toys for this purpose as many pets are territorial with their toys and this could create a negative situation for all pets present at the session. During the course of the 3-week sessions, you will be asked to provide recent copies of your pets’ veterinary records including rabies vaccination and a negative fecal check that was performed less than 12 months ago. A form to be signed by your veterinarian will be emailed to you or distributed at the first session.
WHAT if I decide that pet assisted therapy isn’t right for me and/or my pet?
You may find upon entering the sessions that either you or your pet is not comfortable with proceeding further with the program. If our instructors have tangible evidence that your pet’s behaviors/overall temperament is not suitable for pet assisted therapy, we will meet privately with you and share this information.
WHY is it beneficial to join a local pet assisted therapy group rather than an online evaluation?
Best Friends provides an orientation and a number of opportunities for you and your pet to interact with veteran pet assisted therapy teams for support and guidance. We offer assistance during the orientation and evaluation and afterward in identifying a location where you and your pet can volunteer. Many people cite Best Friends’ practice of group visits as one reason they prefer to be part of a local group. While the majority of our members perform individual visits with their dog, we also organize group visits at various times throughout the months when many teams visit a particular facility or are part of an ongoing program that involves a number of our pet therapy teams. There are no requirements about which type of volunteer service you perform and you are free to take part in either or both of the visiting formats. And you are not required to join Best Friends if you so choose.
HOW can I tell if my dog is appropriate for pet assisted therapy?
Animals taking part in pet assisted therapy must be friendly with humans and with other animals. They should possess a relaxed nature particularly in new or unfamiliar settings. One of the best ways to determine if your pet is potentially appropriate for this type of work is to bring them to Best Friends sessions where we can provide you with guidance and input regarding your decision to pursue a career in pet assisted therapy.
WHAT requirements must my dog meet to be involved in pet assisted therapy?
In order to be registered with Alliance of Therapy Dogs (ATD), dogs must be at least one year old and should respond to basic obedience commands, such as sit or stay as well as walking appropriately on a lead. Obedience class completion or AKC Canine Good Citizen (CGC) testing is not a requirement to join our training orientations. While each organization has its own specific regulations, these guidelines will make successful completion of a pet assisted therapy program more likely.
HOW can I prepare my dog and myself for pet therapy sessions?
It’s a good idea to start with a basic obedience class from a reputable trainer, but this is not required. This is time well spent as it creates a unique bonding experience between you and your pet and gives your pet a chance to meet other animals in a controlled situation. Both you and your pet gain more confidence with the obedience sessions. Identify places that encourage pet owners to bring well-behaved, leashed pets indoors. For example, many pet food stores allow pet parents to take well-behaved pets on a leash inside the store to shop for food, treats, and toys. Some open-air outlet centers, such as Ohio’s Jeffersonville Outlet Mall, have clearly designated pet-friendly areas for shoppers.
WHAT is the difference between the two terms‘registered’ and ‘certified’ which are often used when referring to pet assisted therapy teams?
Many groups holding extended training sessions consider their teams to be certified rather than registered. At present, ATD certifies their teams. Once a team has received either designation, they are free to work in any facility deemed appropriate for pet assisted therapy. Few, if any facilities, make a distinction between these classifications, such as admitting registered teams but not certified teams or vice versa. For most facilities, the primary concern is whether the pet therapy team is covered by sufficient liability insurance and the dog is up-to-date on their vaccinations and is healthy.
WHAT type of liability insurance do facilities consider sufficient?
The most desirable liability insurance comes from ATD that provides primary, or ‘first line’ coverage for teams. This means that if an incident occurs between the therapy pet and a patient or resident, the pet therapy organization’s insurance will assume initial responsibility before the handler’s homeowner policy. Best Friends works with a national pet therapy organization that carries this type of liability insurance and does so to ensure that the pet handlers are receiving the maximum protection available for their pet.
HOW critical is my dog’s health in my decision to pursue a career in pet assisted therapy? What are the requirements concerning pet care for my pet therapy partner?
Dogs involved in pet assisted therapy should be in good health and up-to-date on their vaccinations and fecal checks. Facilities have the right to expect that pet therapy animals are free of germs and parasites that might do extensive harm to patients or residents. For this reason, local and national pet therapy organizations expect pet handlers to maintain the health and welfare of their pets including basic cleaning and grooming. This practice can involve time and expense so it’s a good idea to ask any questions about a group’s requirements at the onset of a class or training session. While most people don’t view this as a deterrent to becoming involved in pet assisted therapy, it’s an important point to consider before entering the field.
Since Best Friends pet therapy teams are certified with a national organization, WHAT IS THE PURPOSE of the local group?
With many national pet therapy organizations, the business of locating a tester and arranging to have a pet tested are the responsibility of the pet handler. National pet therapy organizations feature lists of testers on their web sites so that individuals can contact the tester to set up an appointment. Best Friends uses the 3-week sessions to offer specific guidelines and practical simulations designed to prepare therapy teams for the national testing process. We also take responsibility for contacting the national pet therapy evaluator to set up testing appointments. Our group also works with newly registered teams to find appropriate placements for themselves and their pets. Being part of a local group offers new and veteran teams ongoing support and encouragement for their work in pet therapy as well as a genuine sense of community sharing experiences with others who enjoy working with their pets to help people in need.
WHAT sort of components make up a pet assisted therapy evaluation?
Each group, either locally based or national, has its own set of testing items that the group’s evaluator uses to determine whether or not the handler and animal will make a suitable pet therapy team. Major concerns include handler control and communication between the handler and animal. Best Friends works with a national pet therapy group that employs a direct and practical approach. The test creates situations that demonstrate handler control, communication between both members of the pet therapy team and the pet’s tolerance of a variety of situations, including the presence of an unfamiliar animal. This initial evaluation is followed by a series of three onsite observations where the tester has additional opportunities to watch the team interact with patients and residents. At no time during the testing or observations are the pet and handler separated from one another nor is any use of force used. To do otherwise would be contrary to real life situations involving you and your therapy partner.
Once I have completed a pet assisted therapy evaluation and received proper pet therapy team credentials, WHAT LOCATIONS are my pet partner and I permitted to visit?
In its infancy, pet assisted therapy was largely confined to use in health care facilities, such as nursing homes and hospitals and these locations still welcome pet therapy teams. More recently, pediatric and other day clinics, such as adult day care and outpatient cancer treatment centers have opened their doors to pet therapy teams. Schools and libraries are also considered appropriate locations for pet assisted therapists working in regular classrooms; summer reading programs or with special needs students. The field is expanding rapidly with new opportunities emerging in less traditional areas. The length and frequency of therapy visits can be worked out with the handler and facility staff based on your availability and your pet’s stamina and interest level. There is no time requirement beyond these guidelines. If you are interested in working in a specific area not mentioned here, Best Friends would help you determine if the location is an appropriate venue for pet assisted therapy.
As a Best Friends pet assisted therapy team, will I be assigned to work at a particular location based on the judgment of group officers or the team evaluator?
Absolutely not! Best Friends feels that the decision of where to work in pet therapy belongs to the team. Freedom of choice is at the heart of Best Friends philosophy. Both pet and handler should feel happy and fulfilled with their selection since they will be making the trips to that location. We encourage pet parents to think about the types of activities that please them and their pets taking into consideration pet personality and temperament. For example, older pets often enjoy the relaxed pace of an extended care or assisted living facility while younger, more active pets are happy to fetch tennis balls thrown by recovering stroke or post-operative rehabilitation patients. At Best Friends, we can provide you with information about particular facilities and will offer suggestions if requested but the decision of where to work rests firmly in the hands (and paws) of the pet therapy team.
Once I’ve made a decision about where my pet and I would like to work, WHAT'S NEXT?
Each facility has its own set of rules and regulations regarding volunteers and more specifically, pet assisted therapists. These guidelines range from simple (e.g., a phone call to an activity director being sufficient to launch your career at the facility) to more comprehensive programs that require background checks and other requirements such as TB testing. Some facilities invite pet therapy teams to come at their convenience while other programs, including rehabilitation units and school settings, prefer a more extensive commitment of a weekly or bi-monthly schedule. If your daily/weekly routine prohibits these more regimented time frames, consider exploring volunteer opportunities at a day clinic or nursing home.
WHAT rules and regulations exist regarding the apparel and equipment used by my dog and me during therapy visits?
Choice of clothing for human volunteers is usually included in the guidelines set forth by each facility. Volunteers should present a professional image but may usually wear more casual attire than facility employees. You will learn about specific requirements, such as not wearing open toed shoes due to wheelchair-related injuries, when you participate in the facility orientation program. Rules and regulations regarding canine volunteers are governed by the therapy organization that registers the team. Most groups make their judgments about collars, leashes and other equipment based on patient/resident safety. Retractable leashes are never allowed.
WHAT kind of fees do facilities pay in order to receive visits from pet therapy teams?
All pet assisted therapy services are provided to any appropriate facility at no charge. There is no pet therapy organization that encourages or condones its teams accepting a fee for their services. Pet assisted therapy is a 100% volunteer program.
HOW many non-visiting hours are Best Friends members expected to contribute to the group’s other projects and fundraisers?
There is no required number of non-visiting hours. Best Friends members may attend as many or as few non-visiting events as they choose. The amount of annual visiting hours is determined by ATD, which is a team must do a pet therapy team visit at least quarterly.
If you have any further questions, please contact us.