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Animal-Assisted Therapy

AAT logo depicting the human-animal bond
What is the difference between AAA versus AAT?
What is a therapy animal?
How do I become a volunteer?
What is the difference between visiting by yourself or with a group?
What do health care professionals need to consider?
What national organizations evaluate and register therapy animals?
What are the similarities and differences of the National organizations?
Where are local Twin City and surrounding area groups I might contact?
Kids & Animals - A Healing Partnership

Content provided by Carol Ouhl, Caring Critters of Minnesota, Inc.

What is the difference between AAA versus AAT?

Volunteers who take their pets to visit hospitals, nursing homes, day care programs, and many other types of facilities for the purpose of being petted & socializing with the residents/clients is called Animal-Assisted Activities (AAA).

Health care professionals or certified therapists who use their animal, or work in partnership with a volunteer and the volunteer's pet, using the pet as a treatment modality in a written, individualized treatment plan with specific, documented goals are performing Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT).

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What is a therapy animal?

Therapy dogs or therapy animals is a generic name given to an animal once it has been specifically evaluated and registered with one of the national organizations that operate in this capacity. There are two distinctly different applications for therapy animals. Therapy dogs do NOT operate as specially trained assistance or service dogs that open doors; turn on lights; assist the hearing or visually impaired. This is another higher level of training and assessment. Therapy dogs do NOT have federally granted legal access to public transportation, airplane cabins or public buildings as is afforded to service dogs. Many different types of animals participate in both AAA and AAT.

Good therapy animals come in any size, sex, breed or mix of breeds. They need to like people, be controllable, be trained, well mannered, and of the utmost stable personality. The animal's ability to calmly accept unusual or new circumstances is one of many keys to a good therapy animal. Not every animal will like doing this activity. They can be exposed to the activity, taught specific maneuvers and behaviors for the activity and still not enjoy the activity. Animals should not be forced to do an activity they dislike; it creates too much stress for them.

The animal handler must be able to communicate with his/her animal in a gentle, positive manner; recognize their animal's particular signs of stress; and know how to help their animal.

Younger animals can begin low impact training and exposure/desensitizing at any age. Handlers can begin learning handling etiquette and techniques before their pet is ready to begin training. A large portion of what is involved in preparing to engage in these types of activities is exposure or desensitization to a wide variety of unusual sights, sounds, smells, touches and situations. Both the animal and handler learn proper responses to situations.

None of the national organizations will evaluate, nor allow an animal to work before one year of age due to stress on the animal and the dangers of unpredictable behavior of younger animals. If you have a puppy, you should start with basic puppy kindergarten followed by obedience classes. All of the national organizations' evaluations require some basic obedience skills. This is designed to ensure you have the proper control over your animal to keep it safe in any environment you might encounter.

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How do I become a volunteer?
  • If you are interested in volunteer visiting, decide if you want to visit by yourself or with a group.

  • Many groups prefer you be evaluated by, and registered with, a particular organization.

  • For a good overview on the activity of visiting with your pet, read Volunteering with Your Pet by Mary Burch, PhD or Therapy Dogs by Kathy Diamond Davis

  • Contact one of the national organizations listed here for more information about them or visit their web sites.

  • Contact one of the local visiting groups you want to join to learn of their specific requirements.

  • Contact a local evaluator for the national organization you have chosen to schedule an evaluation of your animal.

  • Evaluation by and registration with a national organization gives you:

  1. free liability insurance coverage for volunteers

  2. a way to network with other people involved in this activity

  3. places to obtain helpful ideas via newsletters or training programs on handling various situations

  4. some credibility when talking with a facility about bringing your pet to visit them

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What is the difference between visiting by yourself or with a group?

Once you begin visiting a facility, the clients look forward to, and count on, you to be there when scheduled. Both their staff and the people you are to visit anticipate your visits. It can be stressful and tiring fulfilling that kind of regular commitment on a long-term basis. Some people visit by themselves because they have a facility very close to their home or have a family member they want to visit. These people set visiting schedules that are comfortable for them, ie, once a month, once a week, or on a varied schedule as they have time available.

Visiting with a group may afford less guilt or stress if you have a schedule conflict and can't make a visit. Other members of the group will continue the visit as scheduled and you can fulfill your other obligations. Other members of the group will share your experiences, lend on support, and offer help or information. Some groups offer clinics, seminars, and training specifically on this activity. There may, however, be some additional requirements to fulfill for whatever group you join such as membership, training, or time commitments.

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What do health care professionals need to consider?
  • Contact your professional association to learn about insurance liability coverage when incorporating an animal.

  • Talk with your facilities for policies, procedures, and practices concerning incorporating animals in your profession.

  • Have your animal assessed by a certified therapy animal evaluator familiar with your particular professional activities.

  • Talk to your personal insurance agent and or attorney concerning all aspects of incorporating an animal.

  • Talk to other health care professionals in your field who have experience incorporating animals to obtain ideas for applications, implementation, risks, etc.

  • Contact a local organization to obtain training or other resources for incorporating animals in your field.

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What national organizations evaluate and register therapy animals?

Therapy Dogs, Inc., (TD Inc.) (Dogs only)
P O Box 5868 Cheyenne, WY 82003
Phone: 877-843-7364 (toll free)
Fax: 307-638-2079
Local Evaluators: Diane Moyer 612-553-1501, Theresa Stead 651-487-1076

Delta Society Pet Partners (many species)
875 124th Ave NE, STE 101
Bellevue, WA 98005-2531

Therapy Dogs International, Inc. (TDI, Inc.) (Dogs only)
88 Bartlett Rd., Flanders, NJ 07836
Phone: 973-252-9800
Local Evaluators: Carol Ouhl in White Bear Lake, Kathleen Reilly-Daniels in Minneapolis

Foundation for Pet Provided Therapy (Many species)
PO Box 6308, Oceanside, CA 92056
Web: None (Founder Liz Palika-Love On A Leash)
Local Evaluator: Any obedience instructor, animal behaviorist, veterinarian

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What are the similarities and differences of the National organizations?

All four national organizations use evaluations based on the Canine Good Citizen (CGC) test created by the American Kennel Club (AKC). Each organization has determined acceptable responses to the exercises and/or added more exercises. The AKC created the CGC in an attempt to encourage pet owners to teach their dogs the basic manners they should have. Each national therapy animal organization received permission from the AKC to use the CGC test as a basis for their evaluation so there would be some consistency and a basic standard to use for evaluating volunteer visiting animals.

Therapy Dogs, Inc. requires a CGC type test plus the team is evaluated while on three actual volunteer visits.

Therapy Dogs International, Inc. uses the CGC test with slightly different responses plus two additional exercises.

Delta Society Pet Partners uses something similar to the CGC plus 10 more exercises of simulated situations. Delta also requires all teams and evaluators to be re-evaluated every two years.

Foundation for Pet Provided Therapy (FPPT) uses a similar evaluation to the CGC plus two additional exercises

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Where are local Twin City and surrounding area groups I might contact?

Twin Cities Tail-Waggers Visiting Dogs
Twin Cities Obedience Training Club
2101 Broadway NE, Minneapolis, MN
Contact: Carol Ouhl 651-762-1581
E-mail: (prefers Delta Society)

We'll Come A Waggin Therapy Dogs Visiting Dogs
Golden Acres Dog Training
23640 Nacre St, NW, Elk River, MN 55330
Contact: Kelli Johnson 612-441-0089
E-mail: (requires TDI, Inc)

St. Paul Dog Training Club
262 South Saratoga St.
South St. Paul, MN 55105

Pals on Paws, a chapter of TDI
Anoka, MN
Contact: Pat Kinch 763-497-5809
14051 55th St. NE, Rogers, MN 55374
E-mail: (requires TDI or Delta)

Bark Avenue on Parade
PO Box 62112, Minneapolis, MN 55426

Helping Paws of Minnesota, Inc. Service Dogs
PO Box 634, Hopkins, MN 55343-0634
Contact: Dawn Torine-Micko 612-988-9359
Director AAA/AAT Program

Caring Critters of MN, Inc.
2254 Lilac Lane, White Bear Lake, MN 55110
Contact: Carol Ouhl 651-762-1581
AAT Training and Applications only

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Kids & Animals - A Healing Partnership

child petting horseKids & Animals is a remarkable one-hour television special that explores the healing bonds formed between children and animals. The program is now available for purchase on videotape. Viewers will meet some amazing children who face extreme challenges in their lives, such as cerebral palsy, paralysis, down syndrome, and even kids who come from places where guns keep them up at night.

Viewers will be moved as a diverse group of animals who have challenges of their own take on the role of therapist in the lives of these children. Producers: AxisGears, 315 West Verdugo Avenue, Burbank, CA 91502, 818-840-9333. To order the videotape or learn more about this type of programming, visit:

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