If you and your pet have the desire and the personality for visiting long-term healthcare facilities, hospitals, rehab, libraries, and other similar institutions, your first step is to get it registered. Thousands of pets are registered with one of the national organizations, such as Pet Partners, Therapy Dogs International, the Alliance of Therapy Dogs, and American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen or Therapy Dog designations. (Pet Partners is the only organization that registers species other than dogs.) Others are registered with the many local and regional pet visitation services that self-regulate their own handlers and animals.
Note that Animal-Assisted Therapy and Activities are not regulated like more established modalities such as occupational or physical therapy. There is no national accreditation body; no state certification or licensure is required. Many states’ administrative regulations guide the conduct of animal visits, but certification of handlers and/or animals is generally not mandated in these procedures.
In this vacuum, each facility is free to create its own policies; many require handlers and animals to be registered with a recognized service and the handlers to have received training in the art and science of animal-assisted interventions. There are other reasons to pursue registration and training:
- Liability insurance coverage is often included by these organiztaions for volunteers pursuing AAA. (Note: therapists conducting AAT in the course of their practice are not covered under these policies and must rely upon their professional, association, or general business liability policies).
- Opportunity to join a support network of teams who are already familiar with programs and procedures.
- A chance to observe programs in action to identify areas where you and your pet feel comfortable – and areas where you do not. Many handlers discover that certain settings are too emotionally draining for them. The good news is that there are more than enough places to visit and people to help if you find that certain types of patients are too close for comfort.
Your second step is to take a course offering training in the techniques of conducting AAT/AAA. These courses, available locally and online, offer numerous benefits:
- A Certificate of Completion that demonstrates to facility administrators that you have received training. The Certificate also enhances a resume, program proposal and grant application. (NOTE: Such a certificate is NOT the same as professional certification.)
- Opportunities to network with other people and pets who share your passion.
- A chance to focus your energy and determine which of the many types of AAT/AAA interventions you and your pets are best suited for.
- Discover areas where you and your pet may need additional training to become ready for this work.
- Help you determine a course of study or major to pursue this work.
- Continuing Education credits.
- Open doors to exciting opportunities where you and your pets can make a difference.
Click here to learn more about training courses being offered.
REALITY CHECK: As a general rule, there are few employment opportunities as an animal-assisted therapist. Third-party payments for therapy visits are few. Most programs are all-volunteer: some are paid for on a fee-for-service basis by the facility or the patient. Most people enter the AAT/AAA field from one of four pathways:
- Volunteering on their own. This is difficult without a network of other volunteers and a support organization to handle the administrative details of scheduling visits.
- Volunteering with an existing group. This is the most common pathway as it offers the communal group wisdom of teams’ experiences and networking.
- Starting an animal visitation service. If you have an entrepreneurial mind and are ready for the rigors of starting a for-profit business or nonprofit organization funded by fees for service, this may be your best route. There are many challenges and profits are minimal.
- Incorporating AAT/AAA into your existing work. Whether you’re in counseling, OT, PT, social work, psychology, speech therapy, special education, gerontology, nursing, or any of many other professions, a little creativity can add an animal component to what you’re already doing.
Click here to learn about our textbook that offers a greatly expanded version of the basic information on this Web site.