Getting Involved in Animal Assisted Interventions
Pet Partners held their 2017 conference on “Professionalizing the Passion” earlier this month, and I was honored to give the keynote address. Pet Partners provides certification, training, and support for volunteer animal and handler teams in Animal Assisted Interventions (AAI), including Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT), Animal Assisted Activities (AAA), and Animal Assisted Education (AAE). That’s a lot of acronyms—and a lot of ways to get involved!
Here are some things to consider if you and your dog would like to lend a helping paw:
1. Is your dog a good fit for AAI? Job qualification #1 is that your dog unequivocally loves people. He should want to voluntarily greet strangers and be comfortable focusing on them, rather than watching you at the other end of the leash. There are many other factors to consider, so be sure to check this article out for more details.
2. Is AAI a good fit for you? You must be alert and ready to advocate for your dog’s safety and well being at all times. You are your dog’s best voice, and should constantly be evaluating the people, the environment, and your dog. It takes focus and commitment, but the reward is well worth it.
3. What’s the right program for you and your dog? There are national and local groups from which to choose. Pet Partners and Therapy Dogs International support volunteer teams all over the United States. I chose the local route with Tootsie, my rescued puppy mill dog. We joined the Pet Pals Team in 2012. Check out your options by calling local hospitals, residential care facilities, or schools and asking what programs they use. Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions about the veterinary and behavioral screening process, where you’ll be visiting, and what will be expected.
Many people say volunteering with their dog is the most rewarding thing they’ve ever done. If you’d like to continue learning about AAI, I encourage you to watch Lending A Helping Paw: A Guide to Animal Assisted Therapy. This DVD guides you through the research behind AAI, along with learning if your dog might be a good prospect, and how to make each visit safe and enjoyable.
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