Volunteering Fido: How you and your pet can bring healing

Jul 18, 2012, 8:21 a.m.

Using pets for therapy: A new entry in the canon of medical science

Perhaps it took awhile, but medical science now accepts the power pets for therapy in the assisted healing of emotional, mental or physically traumatized human beings. But this news is no surprise to Toni Schriver, a sexual abuse victim with a survival story that includes a lasting trust in the unconditional love of animals.

Toni's story touches on the saving grace of family pets. In the mists of tears, loneliness and lost innocence at a very early age, Toni found safety and solace in caring for cats, dogs, gerbils, horses and a host of other indoor and outdoor pets. From abused child to adult bus driver caring for other abused and neglected children, Toni has long understood the value of using pets for therapy.

As a graduate of a regional Animal Health Technician program, Toni now works to heal animals and children. This mixture of caring involves physical and emotional support for the animals but it also involves bringing abused or physically disabled children into healing contact with animal-assisted therapy.

Therapy dog training: A great starting point

Perhaps your Fido would make a great volunteer for animal-assisted healing therapies. Here are some guidelines to help you decide if your dog is right for a therapy dog training program.

Necessary basic traits:

  1. A strong and natural bond between you and your dog
  2. Your dog's focus is on you
  3. Obedience comes naturally and consistently even when your dog is under stress.

Required temperament and level of obedience -- your dog:

  1. Endures pulling, poking, prodding and fierce hugging
  2. Remains calm in spite of the occasional stomped paw or rolled over tail
  3. Reacts cautiously to loud noises or continuous background sounds
  4. Isn't upset by pungent odors
  5. Stays calm amid shouting, screaming and thrashing kids
  6. Refrains from food on low tables or food left lying on the floor
  7. Remains calm and comfortable even in cramped quarters
  8. Navigates well around tables, chairs and other furniture
  9. Interacts favorably with large groups
  10. Gets along with other animals.

Volunteering Fido

If your Fido passes the above requirements, consider registering as a Therapy Dog and Handler Team. Start by visiting and observing ongoing pet-assisted therapy work. Get a mentor. Arrange for Fido to go through a preliminary evaluation test. Make sure that Fido meets current Therapy Dog medical requirements.

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