Therapy Dogs and Animal Assisted Therapy
Animal assisted therapy (AAT) is the use of certified therapy animals as a part of a therapeutic plan. Animal assisted therapy is a significant part of treatment for many people who are physically, socially, emotionally or cognitively challenged. Those in hospitals or nursing homes often benefit from AAT, especially children and the elderly. While animals such as horses and cats can make excellent therapy animals, dogs are by far the most common type. Perhaps this is because of the unique bond that canines and humans share. Therapy dogs truly make a difference in the lives of the people they meet.
How Therapy Dogs Make a Difference:
Animal assisted therapy teams consist of a certified therapy animal and a trained handler. Therapy teams visit hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living centers, children's homes and other similar facilities to help lift spirits and facilitate recovery. Therapy dogs visit with the sick and elderly, sometime simply sitting by the person's side and patiently being petted. AAT patients may walk therapy dogs, play with them, feed them or groom them. Some therapy dogs are trained to sit quietly and attentively while children read to them. Many therapy dogs have their own disabilities or limitations that serve as inspiration to humans with disabilities.
Health studies have shown how having a well-loved pet can lower a person's blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart disease, but what can they do for long-term patients?
· The soft touch of an animal can bring joy to a person who's lost a beloved pet. People in long-term care facilities have often gone a long time without a gentle touch.
· Animals are non-judgmental, forgiving of mistakes and offer unconditional love where a human being may not.
· Animals offer entertainment, a willing ear, and tend to increase social interaction.
· A patient who is in pain or can not speak will not feel pressured to interact with an animal.
· Animals accept the patient for what he or she is, and will not stare or ask awkward questions regarding any disabilities.
· Having an animal present can often focus a patient on itself rather than the patient's current infirmity.
· Pets help people to relax, thus lowering blood pressure.
Animal Assisted Therapy is a great way to become more active in your community as well as bringing joy to dozens of other people.
Qualities of an Ideal Therapy Dog:
Dogs of any breed, size or age may be eligible to become therapy dogs. However, not all dogs are cut out for the job. Therapy dog candidates must possess certain traits in order to qualify. Temperament is by far the most important factor. Before even entering a training program, the therapy dog candidate must be friendly and non-aggressive. The dog must get along remarkably well with children, men, women and other animals. The dog should also be confident, patient, calm, gentle and receptive to training. Socialization is essential for all puppies, but it is especially important for a dog to be considered for a therapy program.
Becoming a Therapy Team:
Therapy dogs work with a dedicated handler. This is often, but not always, the dog's owner. If you want to become a therapy team with your dog, you must both complete thorough training.
WAGS (Wonderful Animals Giving Support) Pet Therapy of Kentucky Inc. has its own set of standards and required courses before a dog and handler can become a registered therapy team. Therapy dogs must also meet specific health requirements. Once the dog and handler complete all requirements, they must go through a final evaluation, or series of evaluations, to become official.
Once you and your dog become a therapy team, you can begin visiting facilities. Visits and schedules are typically arranged through your organization. Once you get out there and start making a difference, you'll be glad you took the time to go through the process. Being an animal assisted therapy team can be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life.
WAGS is a non-profit, volunteer organization based in Louisville since 1999. WAGS members believe in the special and often healing bond between people and animals. The mission of WAGS is to bring people and pets together for companionship and therapy.
To accomplish this goal, WAGS ambassador teams have volunteered thousands of hours in more than 40 facilities in the Kentuckiana area providing animal-assisted activities and animal-assisted therapy. Participation in visitation presents 150 WAGS members with a unique opportunity to give back to the community and share their wonderful, loving pets with those in need. WAGS volunteers partner with their personal pets to provide therapy services to a variety of populations.
For example, WAGS ambassador teams volunteer in Jefferson County Public Schools to offer the “Read with WAGS” program so elementary students can practice reading skills with the pets. Members also visit nursing homes to assist in rehabilitation and brighten residents’ days. In addition, activities are held in many local health care facilities such as Kosair Children’s Hospital, Baptist Hospital East, Our Lady of Peace, Frazier Rehab Institute, Central State Hospital, and Home of the Innocents.
By offering a wide range of visitation opportunities, WAGS can accommodate many different types of pets. Our current teams represent all shapes and sizes of dogs including Great Pyrenees, Miniature Poodles, Boxers, Golden and Labrador Retrievers, Cairn Terriers, Pit Bulls, Dachshunds, Pomeranians, mixed breeds and many more. WAGS also has registered therapy cats. There are no breed restrictions for dogs or cats as long as the animal possesses suitable obedience skills and temperament to perform therapy activities.
WAGS teams are registered through an education and assessment process that includes health screening and completion of an obedience, skills and aptitude evaluation. Once registered, WAGS ambassador teams are insured against liability for their visits. Volunteer opportunities include becoming a WAGS ambassador team with your pet and a variety of options to assist with the mission of WAGS without an animal. Anyone interested in joining WAGS or obtaining more information about this fun, unique form of volunteerism should contact WAGS via www.kywags.org, www.facebook.com/KYWAGS or at 562-WAGS (9247).