As you continue your journey to becoming a Pet Partner animal therapy team, what is next after you have attended the Handler Workshop? It is now time to schedule your Evaluation and start thinking about where you want to volunteer.
Very few animals and humans are suitable for every environment, nor do they want to work with every population. If you are near a Pet Partner Affiliate team, it is a great idea to shadow without your animal to see what each facility / program entails.
Working one on one with a client with just one dog is very different from working with several other animals together. Working in a large facility with an ever-changing population it totally different from visiting a small place where you see the same people every time. Working in a school is very different from working in a hospital.
So we always recommend shadowing an experienced team, whenever possible. And if you shadow someone with an animal similar to yours you can really learn handling skills by observing. And you learn how the animal is integrated into whatever therapies or programming is involved.
Most Pet Partner Affiliate programs have guidelines for each of their partner facilities and mentor you along when you begin so you are not just thrown out there to figure it out on your own. Then when you have passed your Team Evaluation it is time to begin with your own animal and the mentoring continues. If you have shadowed and been in the actual facility you want to volunteer with, you know what to expect.
Consider all options with your Team Leader and see where the best fit would be. Some things to evaluate when choosing the first assignment include:
Schedule: think about the amount of time you can devote to volunteering and the amount of work your animal can comfortably handle. Are you available only in the evenings or weekends? Then a school program would not work for you.
Flexibility: can you and your animal keep to a regular schedule or do you need a facility that is open to a more flexible schedule
Setting: are you and your animal comfortable in a medical environment or prefer a class or library
Pet Partner Rating: if you are a Predictable team, look for a quiet, predictable environment versus a more Complex one where the people and stimuli are constantly changing and you have little or no supervision.
Population: are you and your animal comfortable with the elderly or children or people with cognitive, emotional, physical and/or mental challenges.
Team or Solo: do you enjoy working alongside another team or teams or want to go on your own just with your animal.
Size of your Animal: if you have a very tiny animal (dog or cat or guinea pig!) it can be placed in many places the larger dogs cannot such as the crook of the neck of a quadriplegic or person on a ventilator. Conversely large dogs are the perfect size for other assignments.
Location: is your animal comfortable riding in the car and able to arrive calm in a stress-free state or do you need to work somewhere close to home
Population Turnover: would you prefer to see the same people over time or constantly be meeting new people
Grounds: is there an appropriate area for your animal to eliminate and somewhere to dispose of the waste
Flooring: can your animal walk on slick floors; is your animal small enough to carry or is this a consideration
Staff: is the staff welcoming and embracing animal therapy as part of the care team or do they view the animals as "in the way"; do they understand how to integrate the animals into existing programs or open to creating new ones
Length of Visit: I always recommend very short first visits to familiarize both handler and animal. Fifteen minutes to half an hour to start; Pet Partners does not permit visiting more than two hours per day with several breaks
Expectations: understand your role in the specific facility and what is expected of you and your animal and what is not
Before your first day at a new facility, take a tour with your pet to let him become familiar with the sights and sounds and smells, the length of the ride, where to eliminate, etc. Park where you would park and walk to the facility the route you will take, let your dog become comfortable with the flooring, elevator ride, stairs, layout, reception / security personnel and any area where you will be working.
Make sure your dog is clean, with nails not just clipped but fileds smooth and fur freshly brushed and begin this new adventure with a big smile.
And always know that if a certain assignment isn't working out well for you or your animal, you can speak with your Team Leader and make adjustments. The goal is to always have a safe, fun, value-added experience at both ends of the leash.