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What it takes to be a therapy animal

AP
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Being a therapy dog or cat needs the temperament and personality

Being a therapy dog or cat or horse takes a special kind of animal, one with just the right temperament and personality. It also takes training, not just for the animal, but for the handler.

“You have to be a certain kind of person and have a certain kind of dog to do this,” said Pam Gaber, founder of Gabriel’s Angels, an Arizona-based nonprofit that delivers pet therapy to abused and at-risk children.

Therapy animals are used at hospitals, nursing homes, schools, rehabilitation centers, institutions and in one—on—one sessions with therapists. They also have been brought in to comfort victims of mass-casualty events.

Most prefered

They come from a wide range of species, from cats and rabbits to barnyard varieties like horses, goats and pigs. Exotic birds, hamsters and Guinea pigs, even llamas and alpacas also have been used to comfort people of all ages.

The most popular and recognizable therapy animals, not surprisingly, are dogs.

Pet Partners, a nonprofit organization that promotes positive animal interactions as a therapeutic resource, has 11,000 therapy teams in 14 countries and 95 percent of their animals are dogs.

Advantage dogs

“Dogs are social by nature, but they’re also accustomed to going with us, going out and meeting people,” Bill Kueser, vice president of marketing for Pet Partners, based in Bellevue, Washington. But not every dog is suitable for therapy.

The key is temperament. Therapy dogs need to be relatively even-keeled and enjoy being around people.

If a dog cowers around new people, is too timid or overbearing, or gets jumpy when there’s a lot of commotion, it probably won’t be a good fit as a therapy dog.

Training

The dogs also must have basic obedience skills so they’re not jumping on people or pulling on the leash, and they must be able to follow commands without being distracted.

Most dogs in this line of work go through training, and are registered with organizations such as Pet Partners or Therapy Dogs Inc.AP


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