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Pawsitive Difference: Part 2 of Mannerly Dogs Doing Rounds

By Leslie, Carna4 Communications

In our last Pawsitive Difference post, we met Maxine and Spring, two seasoned volunteers with Therapeutic Paws of Canada, a national non-profit organization that manages volunteer-based therapy dog and cat visitation programs.

In this follow-up post, we outline what makes an ideal therapy dog and steps to becoming one.

As Therapeutic Paws strives for consistently positive experiences, it limits all therapy dog visits to one-hour, or less if the owner senses that the pet is uncomfortable or they encounter a challenge with the visit. Although the pet’s disposition is important, the relationship between owner and pet is critical. How do you know if your dog is suited for therapy work?

Maxine and Spring say an ideal therapy dog is:

  1. Socially “connected” to their owner and part of the family (not a possession)
  2. Happy, healthy, confident and enjoys being around people and handled by them
  3. Calm, well-mannered and kind hearted
  4. With an owner (or handler) who is patient, committed and also kind hearted

Do you think your dog might be an ideal match? Can you give up an hour of your time per week? In so, your first step is to contact Therapeutic Paws (or another nearby therapy organization).

Therapy dog Shasta in front of a picnic table with her country walk buddies. (Her owner Maxine believes that as a pack leader, Shasta felt it beneath her dignity to climb on the table with the rest.)

In her role as Team Leader for downtown Toronto, Ontario, Maxine manages about 20 volunteer therapy dogs and their owners. This includes an initial phone interview to a two-hour test and ongoing scheduling and monitoring to ensure visits are a positive experience for all. It also means adhering to Therapeutic Paws’ vigilant safety measures, which entail a requirement for each prospective therapy dog’s owner to undergo three screening tests: character reference check, mental health check and vulnerable sector screening check (vulnerable persons police check).

With our aging population, there’s no shortage of work for therapy pets. The challenge is maintaining funds to run (and grow) the programs. “Financial support is needed to cover varied expenses, such as hefty insurance fees for each therapy pet, facility costs for testing/best practice seminars and uniforms/badges to uphold security by clearly identifying owners and their therapy pets,” explains Maxine. To learn more, volunteer or donate (by mail, United Way or online through Canada Helps) to Therapeutic Paws of Canada, you can visit http://tpoc.ca.

If you live in the United States, you’ll find various therapy pet organizations, including the Delta Society, Intermountain Therapy Dogs, Therapy Dogs International, Therapy Dogs United and Therapy Dogs.

Canada’s other programs include: Caring Canine Dr. Dogs, East Central Therapy Dogs, Ottawa Therapy Dogs, Pacific Animal Therapy Society, Pets and Friends and those run by St. John Ambulance.

The bottom line is therapy dog programs combine positive animal personalities with the best human traits to enhance the lives of others with the special bond that exists between the two.

Do you have a therapy dog? If so, what has your experience been like? Please tell us.

Carna4 is committed to supporting the well-being of pets, their owners and the larger pet advocate community. As such, we occasionally profile not-for-profit organizations in the United States and Canada that are focused on helping companion animals or working with them to help others and serve a broader cause. This is the second of future posts about organizations making a “pawsitive difference.” Please give us your recommendations on which organizations you think we should profile.