Many people have asked me to show them how to begin volunteering with their dog as I do with my fine little fellow. If this is something that interests you there are a few steps you need to take in order to get involved!
Riley is my long-haired dachshund and has been my partner in crime for the last seven years. When he was still a puppy I thought a great way to change lives and give back was to volunteer in local hospitals with him as a therapy dog. I imagined it would be the perfect combination because I would be able to continue to spend time with him while giving back to the community. It has proven to be one of the best things I have ever done!
What does it mean to be a therapy dog? Well, the simple presence of a dog for many people is therapeutic. Most of the places I visit do not allow live-in dogs, so getting to be around animals is a special treat. Riley and I go to nursing homes, hospitals, at-risk children’s gatherings, et. al. where we interact with children and adults in need. I let people pet him and ask open-ended questions that leads to conversation and ongoing relationships. It gives the people you visit something to look forward to when they know you are coming back. For some people I am their only ‘outside visitor.’ Though the thought of that gives me a heavy heart, it inspires me to show each person even more kindness and empathy because you never truly know what situation they are coming from and dealing with.
I was in Gainesville when we began volunteering at Shand’s Hospital. This was our first ‘Therapy Dog Team’ experience. We were certified into the Shand’s Animals Heal Hearts program and were given free reign over the hospital. It was an eye-opening experience because I was able to wander the halls of the Pediatric Ward, the Intensive Care Unit, and even the Mental Health area. I will not soon forget entering that area one day and a patient had been admitted for lighting his entire body on fire. Being a therapy dog is a loving act for those you visit and it has also greatly expanded my own horizons.
Now that I am back in Orlando after Gainesville and Miami, I volunteer at several local nursing homes and at Florida Hospital-Orlando. There is a definite niche for wherever you feel most called to volunteer, whether it is among children in need, adult hospital patients, nursing homes, churches, etc.
Certifying Your Dog
(Allow about 1 month to complete the process.)
There are a few programs that you can go through to certify your dog. I can’t say if the one I chose was better or worse than the other programs available, but the process was as streamlined as it could be.
1. The Therapy Program I was certified through is Therapy Dogs Inc. Clicking on the link will open in a new tab. The website is old school but it gets the job done.
2. On the landing page you will see on the right hand column “How to Become a Member.” Follow that to the instruction page. This page has all the forms and information you will need to become certified.
3. Make sure your dog is up-to-date on all mandatory vaccinations and has a current negative fecal exam. Obtain a copy of the records. There is a form that your vet must stamp or sign that states your dog is up to date. This form must be signed. Simply having the medical record is not enough.
4. Fill out the other required forms from the website.
5. Now the “work” begins. In order to be certified, you have to pass a ‘Handling Test’ with your dog and then complete three supervised visits with one of the certified Testers/Observers. Yes, it is a lot of hoop jumping. But I will tell you that once the hoops are completed it is well worth it.
What to Expect with the Handling Test-
The evaluator is looking to see that you have control over your dog. This includes but is not limited to: walking on a leash, encountering new people, and encountering other dogs. Also, they will try to startle your dog to see how he/she reacts. In my case, the woman that evaluated me had a friend with her. When that portion of the test came around she made really loud, strange noises and flailed her arms around to make sure he wouldn’t try to bite. Riley was a champ…
6. Three supervised therapy visits are then required to complete your application. You will find a drop down box at the bottom of the page that says TESTER/OBSERVERS. I searched for one in my area and actually ended up using more than one person locally to speed up the process. You have to work with their schedule as far as scheduling visits and this was my best option to expedite the process. Two of my visits were at a nursing home and one was at an at-risk children’s outing.
THE FOLLOWING ITEMS ARE REQUIRED AND MUST BE INCLUDED FOR MEMBERSHIP ***
I pulled this off the website for completing the membership application:
_____ This Completed Application
_____ Proof of Rabies Vaccination or Proof of Minimum Rabies Titer levels (0.5 IU)
_____ Signed Release of Claims Form
_____ Completed TDInc. Test
_____ Test Evaluation Form
Send all completed materials and a $30 check to: (They accept credit cards too)
Therapy Dogs Inc.
P.O. Box 20227
Cheyenne WY 82003
The Life of Riley
Riley enjoys vacationing in North Carolina in his spare time.
While in North Carolina, when he is not sunning himself on the deck he enjoys long hikes through the mountains.
He finds that he can make himself comfortable anywhere, at any time.
He is drawn to the water, enjoying quiet moments.
He also enjoys not-so-quiet moments with the water.
He does not discriminate among friends.
Good luck on certifying your dog for therapy. I am here to help. Don’t hesitate to ask!