Animal Assisted Therapy is a diverse, and a somewhat unique variant of therapy. This is usually practiced in selected hospitals and rehabilitation centers with the care and control of specialized physical therapists and is done by certified, efficient and qualified therapy animals. These animals have been trained specifically to be of service to the hospitals and centers where most of the animals are usually volunteers.
Also, the University of Minnesota's Stroke Institute has recently published research findings that suggest benefits of cat ownership. According to the study, cat owners have a reduced chance of getting a stroke or heart attack by about one-third.
- Make sure that your pet has the right disposition. Most of the animals that are considered, or qualified, as being service animals are those who are usually mellow and compassionate to whoever they would be assigned to. They are also required to sociable and have the ability to be calm and comfortable in unusual environments or people. Dogs vary in personality and they are required to be obedient and friendly at all times. There would be instances that you could encounter odd and eccentric people and situations that would require you, especially your pet, to be controlled and calm.
- Do research about the programs that need to be attended. All of these animals undergo a specialized ‘therapy certification program' where they are trained for more than a year with an on-leash test of obedience afterward. Lists of qualified and efficient pet trainers are available on the internet or at the newspapers. Most of these trainers are licensed and are specialized in training pets.
- Apply for a program. A nominal fee is needed for these courses, but they would also benefit you even if you choose to volunteer or not after the course. This is done prior to the volunteer application as there would be a test of certification that your pet should pass before you would be accepted to volunteer.
- Remember to keep your pets clean and bathe them prior to your rounds. It is highly advised that you bathe your pet after the rounds especially if you came from medical facilities. You could join groups that provide support to co-volunteers and work along with them.
- Be ready to join your pet throughout the journey. Therapy pets bring emotional support to those who are going through rough situations. As a volunteer, you would be often requested to go around hospitals, schools, recovery and rehabilitation centers, nursing homes and other establishments where a person, or a number of people, might need the love and warmth a pet could provide. This could also serve as a bonding experience between you and your animal. There is so much the selfless love of a pet could bring that would help save lives, inspire and change your life along with many others.
Training and volunteering can be exciting. If you have a pet that is capable and qualified, consider joining as a volunteer as this could save the lives of many and spread the love and sunshine only you and your pet can give.