Therapy cats and small therapy dogs do amazing work providing encouragement and affection to nursing home residents, hospital patients, and children with special needs. Nursing home residents often feel lonely and isolated. Spending time with a snuggly little dog or a purring, cuddly cat can help open doors of communication and bring back happy memories.
Characteristics of Therapy Cats
Therapy cats are not common. Many cats are suspicious of strangers and will avoid them until they feel comfortable Therapy cats not only tolerate meeting strangers, they genuinely enjoy meeting new people. A good therapy cat will gladly sit in a stranger's lap and allow a stranger to pet her. Therapy cats have a powerful ability to empathize and emotionally connect with a person they have just met.
Characteristics of Small Therapy Dogs
Unlike larger dogs who visit from the floor level, small therapy dogs will sit in a patient's lap or snuggle up beside them in bed. Small dogs have a reputation for being snappy toward strangers and other dogs. To be a therapy dog, your dog must be very comfortable with being petted and handled by strangers. He should not be overly protective of you. To be classified as a small therapy dog there is no specific weight limit. The main difference is that a small dog will be carried by his owner.
Therapy ARC stands for Animals Reaching Clients. TherapyARC has provided pet therapy services to the Nashville community since 2001. The organization currently has pet-partner teams visiting regularly at over sixty facilities in Williamson, Davidson, Sumner, and Wilson Counties. Therapy ARC pet partners are certified by the Delta Society, newly renamed Pet Partners. TherapyARC has licensed evaluators on staff to help with Pet Partner certification testing. TherapyARC has certified large dogs, medium dogs, small dogs, cats and a bunny team for pet therapy work.
Your pet will be brought to a public location like a small shopping mall or PetSmart store. An experienced volunteer will observe how your small dog behaves as a stranger approaches, how comfortable your dog is with being petted and touched, and how calm your dog can remain despite distractions and the close proximity of a friendly stranger.
A therapy cat should be in a harness at all times and is usually carried in a special bag. An old backpack works well or you can buy a special cat carrying bag. The bag should hold your cat comfortably when worn over your chest. Your cat must remain calm even though she is in a strange place with different sounds and smells. A good therapy cat is able to focus on the person she is interacting with despite distractions, and freely allows petting and holding.
Group Training Class
The official Pet Partners training class usually takes place for about 2 hours in the evening for 10 weeks. You as the handler will learn the rules and guidelines for pet therapy. Most of the class, however, is practical in nature. You will have the opportunity to observe and practice the exercises required for each step of the evaluation process. Being in a group class also gives your cat or small dog practice being around other dogs without reacting to them. At the end of the course, an evaluation will be scheduled with a licensed trainer to evaluate you and your pet's readiness for pet therapy work.
TherapyARC includes a mentoring field trip with their group training class. You and your pet will be matched with an experienced pair of Pet Partners. On the first Saturday, you will observe your mentor and her pet doing a pet therapy visit at a local nursing home. On the following Saturday, you will bring your own pet and the mentor will give you feedback as you visit with residents of the same nursing home.
Pet Partners therapy certification consists of two different sets of exercises. The first half of the evaluation is called the Pet Partner Skills Test and includes basic obedience such as "sit", "come" and "leave it". The second half of the evaluation is the Pet Partners Aptitude Test. The goal of the PPAT is to observe how you and your cat or small dog handle scenarios that are likely to occur in the therapy experience such as loud noises, clumsy petting, and being approached by multiple people at the same time. See the attached list for a detailed description of each exercise in the evaluation. Small dogs and cats are carried by the handler for most of the evaluation.
How You Can Become a Pet Partner Team
If you are interested in having your cat or dog evaluated for pet therapy work, please contact TherapyARC. Initial screenings are held several times a year and classes are held at least twice a year. Courses are typically held in Franklin or Gallatin, both within a 45 minute drive of downtown Nashville.