How To Get Your Dog Into Therapy Work And Why You Should
Katy Cable -TWR A 5 minute read
My blog this week is two-fold. I first want to clarify the often misunderstood differences between a “Therapy,” ESA (Emotional-Support-Animal) and a “Service” dog. I also want to introduce you to the many rewarding opportunities in therapy dog work and let you know how to get your dog involved.
I will never forget the horror I felt watching “Bear” a 135lb, out-of-control black Lab, jump up and knock over a tiny 5 year-old girl just a fraction of his size. He proceeded to grab the soft-serve ice cream cone right out of her hand and snarf it down in all of 5 seconds. The poor little girl was completely terrified and began crying as Bear then tore through the crowds, lift his leg and peed on a decorative planter at the elementary school graduation ceremony. The real kicker was this dog was wearing a “Therapy Dog” vest.
Unfortunately, situations like this have become all to common. Many dog owners, wishing to have their pets accompany them to more and more activities, pop a vest on their back and BOOM! -Now they’ve got a dog they can take anywhere they please.
Now I’m all for dog-friendly places and nothing makes me happier than meeting service and therapy dogs when I’m out and about. On the other hand, people ordering service vests online then parading their barking, disobedient dogs through crowded malls, restaurants and hotels infuriates me. These selfish, clueless people, whose dogs don’t have the temperament or skills to pass a basic obedience class, are doing a major disservice to those true assistance dogs. They also put everyone in danger.
According to the ADA, a “service animal” is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability. This includes detecting drops in blood sugar, on-coming seizures, anxiety attacks, and assisting the impaired or disabled with tasks. These animals are legally allowed to accompany their owners anywhere and are not limited by restrictions which may sometimes be placed on “pets.” For example, a disabled renter does not have to worry about finding housing that allows pets. Legally, these highly trained, highly skilled assistance animals are not considered “pets.”
It it is also not legally required that a service animal wear a vest or disclose that they’re assisting someone with a disability. Under the law, if the animal isn’t immediately identifiable as a service dog, staff may only inquire if the dog is a service animal for a disability and what task they perform. They may NOT ask to see any ID, medical documentation, or require the animal perform the task. Unless the dog is out of control and can’t be managed by their handler, they may not be denied access or services.
What is is completely taboo is leaving a so-called “service animal” unattended barking at home or in a hotel room, while the owner pops out for the evening. A true assistance dog accompanies their owner or abides by the rules for “pets” when not formally working. The owner of a service animal is also responsible for any damages incurred by their dog such as a cleaning fees or carpet steaming.
Therapy Dogs on the other hand, provide comfort and emotional support through specialized visits. Any legit therapy dog organization should require that dogs master all Canine Good Citizen skills as well as other specialized tasks that may be required in medical/hospital settings. In addition, extensive temperament tests are done to confirm dogs don’t get aggressive or act inappropriately. Any dog a year or older who passes the evaluation can become a therapy dog. Dogs only need to have the required vaccines and cannot be in heat during visits.
If you have a dog that is well trained (or could be well trained) enjoys attention and petting, isn’t easily agitated or anxious, I would encourage you to look into trying some therapy work. I have listed a link below to Therapy Dogs International, the company I worked through. TDI is one of the largest, most respected companies, however, there are many groups around if you check online. Most sights have a list of required skills as well as evaluation dates and locations. Make sure the organization carries insurance since you don’t want to be liable if an accident occurs during a visitation. The group should also list opportunities and places seeking visits from therapy dogs. Hopefully you can read testimonials and see photos from current members as well.
My experience doing therapy work began as a fluke. A woman approached my then 7 year-old daughter about bringing our Pug Raisin to elementary schools and helping kids develop their reading skills. I chimed in asking what was involved and how much it cost. The first step was taking Raisin to a formal evaluation and make sure he had the right temperament. He also needed to demonstrate he could perform all the Canine Good Citizen skills on command.
Karley surprised me with her interest and went right to work training Raisin. Not long after, we took him for his evaluation at a medical facility packed with beautiful dogs practicing their commands with their owners. I immediately turned into a nervous stage-mom wondering if he would make the cut.
Most the dogs being evaluated before Karley and Raisin didn’t pass. They were encouraged to come try again once they had mastered certain skills. I wasn’t optimistic and had my “good try” speech prepared. Low and behold, Raisin passed with flying colors. That afternoon Karley became the youngest therapy dog handler and our life-changing journey began.
After-school Karley took Raisin to elementary schools and started helping “at-risk” students learn to read. These children were more than most trained, mature teachers could handle let alone a child of roughly the same age. Seeing the students were not interested in reading they only wanted to play with Raisin, Karley decided to write a book about his “Wags-to-Riches” life hoping it might be of interest.
“Raisin, -A Doggie’s Tale…” is a heartwarming, funny story told from Raisin’s POV. It teaches children to be responsible pet owners and how to overcome obstacles. The book was such a hit with the kids, Karley published it on Amazon then used social media to market it. Within a few weeks, she made enough money to donate funds to a local shelter and purchase a new computer. Her book also caught the attention of Oprah Winfrey and Karley received an invitation to the White House where the President received an autographed copy. Best of all she got to watch her students thrive all because of her beautiful story, her love and her special little pug, Raisin.
After watching my daughter transform through this unbelievable experience, I got a call to bring Raisin to the pediatric critical care unit of a local hospital. I remember sitting in my car in the parking lot paralyzed with fear. I was certain I had made a huge mistake. I was so terrified I would screw something up I couldn’t bring myself to move. Healthy school kids were one thing, critically ill children were quite another. I somehow managed get as far as the lobby where I was immediately blindsided by a beautiful quilt hanging on the wall. Each square honored a child whose life was lost far too early. It took everything in my power not to run out the door hysterically crying. I so wished I had never committed to this.
Raisin meanwhile had a spring in his step and complete confidence. He no sooner got his paw out of the elevator when literally every single staff member came over lavishing him with pats, strokes and attention. As we walked down the hall to visit our first patient, we passed a mom and dad slumped on the hallway floor. They sadly stared at their tiny 9 month-old daughter who was standing in a baby bouncer-saucer. She had two IVs her itty-bitty arms and look deathly ill. The toddler stood lifelessly gazing down at the ground. It broke my heart.
The second we walked by this little pixie she began yelling and frantically pounding on her tray. I panicked. I was certain we had traumatized the poor little girl. I was waiting to be escorted out and told never to return when, to my surprise, her parents yelled, “You with the dog, please come back!” As I turned around I noticed the parents had tears streaming down their cheeks. They begged me to let their little daughter pet Raisin.
I was so relieved! I happily took Raisin over and right then and there I experienced a miracle. Apparently this little toddler had never in her life displayed so much emotion much less enthusiasm. It was something her parents had never before witnessed. For the next 30 minutes they were all filled with joy. Everyone’s faces lit up as the toddler giggled hysterically at Raisin’s curly tail and funny Pug snorts. The color began returning to the child’s face and she had an undeniable sparkle in her eyes. In that moment everything changed. I no longer panicked about therapy visits and looked forward to bringing happiness and joy to others in need.
In addition to my daughter’s and my own, I also was fortunate to witness many lives that were transformed because of Raisin. Difficult, problem children began behaving and excelling in school. Sick children riddled with cancer healed. Alzheimer’s patients recalled happy memories of a beloved pet. Prison inmates softened, and people took their last breath on this earth while petting Raisin. He was very, very, special.
I am now a firm believer in the healing powers a dog can unleash. I hope if you’re able, you’ll consider participating in therapy work and will share some of your own miracles.
For information regarding service animals visit:
For therapy or service dog work info. visit:
To order a copy of “Raisin, -A Doggie’s Tale…click the link: https://www.amazon.com/Raisin-Doggies-Tale-Dumb-Dog-Tail-Waggin/dp/1453699929/ref=nodl_
💕🐾This inspiring story is a must-have for any pug lover or child who struggles to overcome obstacles in life. Proceeds benefit various pug rescues nationwide.🐾💕