Developing a Visiting Animal Program
Welcome! We’re thrilled to know you’re interested in joining the thousands of facilities who have opened their doors to Pet Partners therapy animal teams.
Visits by well-trained and thoroughly screened handlers and their animals can benefit the health and well-being of people in hospitals, nursing homes, schools, retirement communities, rehabilitation centers and many other facilities.
Research shows that positive interactions with animals increase endorphins, oxytocin, prolactin and dopamine, the hormones associated with blood pressure regulation, pain relief, stress relief and joy. Visits from therapy animal teams can normalize stays away from home for hospital patients, improve motivation to participate in treatment protocols and lessen worry, anxiety, unhappiness and pain.
Why choose Pet Partners Therapy Animal Teams?
- $2M comprehensive general liability insurance for all volunteers
- Required handler education including topics such as confidentiality, infection control, effective communication, and animal handling best practices
- Team re-evaluation every two years ensures the suitability of the animal as they mature
- All animals meet our non-aggression standards, including the exclusion of protection dogs
- Stringent infection control protocols, including thorough grooming standards, required hand hygiene before and after any interaction and exclusion of raw proteins
- All handlers may visit with only one animal at a time
- Dual level qualifications for teams help volunteers and facilities find settings in which the team will be the most effective
- Nine different species are registered through Pet Partners, expanding your possible pool of therapy teams to include cats, mini horses, rabbits, birds and even llamas!
- Comprehensive continuing education available to handlers including topics such as working with Veterans and clients with Alzheimer’s
While there are many local, regional and even national groups that can provide therapy animal teams, Pet Partners has the highest standards for their registered therapy animal teams that ensures both safe and effective visits in the community. We are proud to be the only national program aligned with the International Association of Human Animal Interaction Organization (IAHAIO) recommendations for therapy animals.
Once you’ve decided you’re interested in starting a therapy animal program, where should you start?
Assess Your Site
Where do you want teams to visit? Where will visiting teams have the most impact? What level of staff involvement are you willing to provide?
All our teams are qualified as suitable for either predictable or complex environments. Environments are judged on a combination of staff involvement and activity level. By considering where you would like visits to occur and what kind of staff involvement will be possible, you can set volunteers and the clients they visit up for success.
To read more about qualification ratings and how to determine your facility environment, click here.
Review Policies and Procedures
We recommend reviewing the Pet Partners policies and procedures that all volunteers abide by. This will familiarize you with our expectations of volunteers. In the case that both Pet Partners and the facility have a policy on the same topic, the more conservative of the two shall apply.
Educate Your Administration and Staff
There can be concerns about opening a facility to therapy animal teams and creating buy in is critical for successful programs. We are here to support you and answer questions you may have.
Some items that may be helpful in educating your coworkers include:
- Summary of Risk
- Touching Lives, Improving Health video
- Pet Partners facility education deck
Determine Your Internal Protocols
Based on conversations you have with fellow staff and concerns that may be raised, you’ll likely create some internal protocols unique to your facility.
- Who will be the point person for your therapy animal team volunteers?
- What site specific orientation will they need?
- What area of the grounds can animals use for breaks?
- Are there additional requirements for your facility, such as completing a background check or additional health screenings you need to communicate to volunteers?
- How will you determine who should receive visits?
- How will you screen clients for concerns such as allergies or fear of animals?
- Where will visits occur?
Start Recruiting Teams
Now that you’ve determined how therapy animal visits can occur at your facility, you are ready to find some teams.
Enroll your facility with Pet Partners (www.petpartners.org/facilityregistration). By submitting some basic information, you will be listed in our national directory of facilities open to therapy animal visit which is searchable by our registered volunteers. Even when you have a full complement of volunteers, you will remain in the directory.
Post a volunteer opportunity (www.petpartners.org/FacilityVolunteerRequest). This quick web form allows you to enter basic information about your specific volunteer opportunity and let teams know you are actively seeking volunteers. Registered volunteers in your area can then search the listings and contact you directly.