The following post is from Canidae.com
By Sierra Koester
Therapy dogs and cats bring a lot of comfort to those who need it – children in oncology wards, patients in rehabilitation hospitals and seniors in nursing homes, to name just a few. A visit from a therapy pet can significantly brighten one’s day, lift spirits, and ease loneliness.
Therapy dogs and cats need to have specific qualities. You may not realize, however, that you are an important part of the therapy team, too! This means that you also need to possess certain qualities to help your pet participate in therapy work. Do you and your pet have what it takes to be an effective therapy team?
Qualities Therapy Pets Need to Have
Your dog or cat must love people, including strangers, in order to be a good therapy pet. Some hospital patients, nursing home residents and children may pet a therapy animal roughly or clumsily for various reasons, and a therapy pet must be able to tolerate this.
Therapy dogs need to be able to consistently obey basic commands such as sit, stay, down, and come. Dogs must also be able to walk on a leash without pulling. Cats must be comfortable wearing a harness and leash, but they don’t need to be able to walk on a leash. A harness and leash are meant to protect a therapy cat if she gets startled and tries to run away.
Therapy pets must remain calm even in stressful situations. They must be calm in unfamiliar situations where they may encounter loud noises, medical equipment and crowds. Some settings, such as schools, nursing homes and hospitals, can have sudden commotion, and a therapy pet needs to be able to remain calm amidst the stress.
Additionally, therapy pets must not have a history of aggression. This includes no history of injuring people or other animals.
A therapy pet must be current on vaccinations and have no fleas, ticks or parasites. A cat or dog may be disqualified from becoming a therapy pet if she is taking antifungals, antibiotics or immunosuppressants, such as chemotherapy or steroids. Pet therapy organizations generally allow cats and dogs with disabilities to become therapy pets as long as the work doesn’t make the pet’s condition worse.
Qualities a Handler Must Have
Not only does a cat or dog need to have certain qualities to be an effective therapy pet, the handler (you) must also possess specific qualities.
●A Genuine Love of People
Just like your cat or dog, you need to love being around people to be an effective member of an animal therapy team. You’ll be talking to all types of people, and you’ll need to feel comfortable in various settings, such as hospitals, nursing homes, schools, and oncology wards. If you’re shy around strangers, being part of an animal therapy team may not be for you.
●You Communicate with Your Pet Well
Not only must your dog respond to basic obedience commands, you have to be able to read your pet’s body language effectively. You need to know when your pet is tired, scared, anxious, concerned or overstimulated.
You must display positive interactions with your pet as well, by praising, encouraging and rewarding her, when appropriate. You need to be able to redirect your pet, when necessary, without jerking on her leash, raising your voice, or having to offer treats or toys.
You need to be calm and relaxed around strangers. Maintaining a nonjudgmental attitude is also important. A handler must be confident in herself as well as in her pet’s behavior. When visiting people, a handler needs to be able to carry on a conversation with strangers while being aware of her pet’s behavior at all times.
If you think you and your pet have what it takes to be an animal therapy team, and the idea appeals to you, check out local animal therapy organizations in your area to learn more about the process.
Read more articles by Sierra Koester