Therapy Dog Volunteer Project
A pet project that'll really make someone's day!
- A pet:Most programs use dogs, but some programs will accept almost any pet—birds, lizards, snakes, guinea pigs, llamas, miniature horses, cats, pigs, rabbits or (yikes!) mice.
- Handler:You and/or your kid.
- A place to volunteer:Like a hospital, a nursing home or an assisted-living facility.
- Certification:Most places require that your pet be certified as an official "therapy dog." See below.
- Help your child pick a place to volunteer. Hospitals, children's hospitals or assisted living facilities are all good choices. Most organizations require that your dog be at least 1 year old, have a clean bill of health, complete basic obedience training, have all his vaccines and be well-socialized and well-groomed. In short, you'll have to book a trip to the vet.
- Almost all facilities also require that your dog be certified by one of the dog therapy certification organizations before your pet can work as a therapy dog: Delta Society, Comfort Caring Canines, Therapy Dogs Incorporated and Therapy Dogs International all have accredited programs. Certification costs around 35 dollars and takes anywhere from 8 hours (for a crash course) to a few months. Each program does things differently, so visit their sites to see which one is right for you and your kid (and your pup, of course). Delta Society offers a home study kit if you're the home-schooling type.
- Once your pup is certified, contact the institution to arrange your visit. The organization that certifies you will most likely supply you with a list of local places to visit with your therapy dog (or hamster).
- Visits generally last an hour, so bring a pooper scooper for the pup and snacks for the kids.
- Check with the facility you have selected for age requirements. Some organizations require volunteers to be over the age of 18, others set the age limit at 10. Still others just require that an adult accompany any kids under 16.
- Want to explore more volunteer opportunities with man's best friend? Consider fostering a guide dog.
- Looking for other ways to brighten someone's day? Bring your little comedian with you for a hospital visit.
- Check out our ages and stages guide to volunteering opportunities.