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How You and Your Pet Can Support Human Health and Wellness

Photo: Courtesy of Eric Ward

You already know how interacting with a pet makes you feel: happy, relaxed, comforted, and loved. Your pet may also be able to bring these positive effects to other people, with your support and guidance, working together as a volunteer therapy animal team, who provide animal-assisted interventions in your community.

Therapy animal teams, consisting of one pet and their human handler, make visits to people in hospitals, assisted living, rehabilitation centers, schools, and other facilities. Interactions with animals have been documented to have positive effects on human wellness including decreased anxiety and stress, reduction in blood pressure, improvement in reading skills, and reduced perception of pain. These effects are supported by peer-reviewed data, and requests for therapy animal teams are growing in a variety of facilities and settings across the country.

Pet Partners educates handlers and screens and registers therapy animal teams to ensure they can visit safely and effectively. More than 10,000 registered Pet Partners volunteer teams make more than 3 million visits each year to bring the benefits of therapy animals to people. You and your pet could be among them!

And therapy animals can be more than just dogs. We register nine types of animals: dogs, cats, equines, rabbits, guinea pigs, rats, birds, mini pigs, and llamas & alpacas. So there are many opportunities to get involved in this rewarding work.

Therapy animals are born, not made; the qualities that a therapy animal needs will be part of who they are. If you don’t already have a pet, you can look for the qualities needed for a therapy animal when selecting a pet, whether from a breeder or a shelter—many shelter pets have become therapy animals, with plenty of love to share with others.

A good therapy animal candidate, of any species, will have a friendly personality and enjoy interacting with people, as well as a calm temperament and reliable behaviors. They’ll enjoy new experiences and be comfortable wearing a leash. And they’ll have basic obedience skills, suited to their species. They’ll also have a strong bond with their handler, who supports them during visits and makes sure everyone is safe while visiting.

If your pet has these qualities, is at least one year old (six months old for rabbits, guinea pigs, and rats), and has lived with you for at least six months (one year for birds), you might be ready to start the process of becoming a therapy animal team. The process includes an educational course on best practices and requirements for working as a therapy animal handler; a health screening for your pet; and an in-person evaluation for both of you to gauge your skills and aptitude for therapy animal work.

A Pet Partners registration prepares your therapy animal team for visiting with education to give you the skills you need; credentials that assure facilities you have the ability to visit safely; and liability insurance coverage to minimize risks. If you enjoy activities with your pet and want to share your pet with others, becoming a therapy animal team could be the right fit for you!

Volunteering with your pet as a therapy animal team brings great benefits: to your community, through the support your pet provides to human wellness; to your pet, in the attention and pleasure they get from visiting people; and to you, in knowing you are making a difference for people by sharing your special animal. It’s a profound way to create connections and make an impact in your community.

To learn more and get started, visit petpartners.org/volunteer.

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