If there are two words that puppy raisers often dread, it’s “The Call.” Your pup is being released from the service dog program. The great news is that these dogs can continue to make a difference. You and your pup now have the opportunity to become a therapy team. The commitment varies, but is typically a shift of one to two hours anywhere from once a week to once a month.
The first step is to ensure that you have insurance coverage, and that means joining an association of therapy animals. The most well-known in the greater Denver area are:
- Alliance of Therapy Dogs (ATD),
- Pet Partners (PP),
- Therapy Dogs International (TDI), and
- Children’s Hospital Colorado (CHC) — while not large, it operates its own program.
Start by working backwards. Think about where you would like to volunteer. If it is your local hospital, call and ask which organization their teams are affiliated with. Know that because evaluations are only offered a few times each year, the process of joining any one of these organizations can easily take six months.
It is important to understand the difference between Animal Assisted Activities (AAA) and Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT). If your goal is to maximize impact, look for programs which offer AAT. Both of our COC dogs volunteer at Children’s Hospital, but one does AAA and one does AAT. Nella, our snuggle pup, loves going into patients’ rooms, jumping the beds, and melting into the kids. That’s an animal assisted activity — there is no therapy involved. Hathaway hates stepping foot into patients’ rooms. She does, however, love her AAT job in the therapy gym. The therapists use her as a tool in their arsenal to get patients moving again. With Hathaway, therapists have been able to get kids to stand independently for the first time, and to take the first steps after getting a prosthesis.
Alliance of Therapy Dogs: ATD is the best-known international therapy organization and have teams in facilities throughout the Denver metro area. Ironically, one of their largest programs here is “CATS.” While there is at least one cat in CATS, the remainder of the more than 100 teams are dogs (Team #101 was a Dalmatian!). CATS stands for Canine Airport Therapy Squad, and teams typically volunteer at Denver International Airport three times a month. http://www.therapyanimals.org/Home.html
Therapy Dogs International: TDI has been in operation since 1976. As one of the oldest and largest organizations, they tend to have about 25,000 teams each year in the United States and Canada. https://www.tdi-dog.org/About.aspx
Pet Partners: Despite its name, Denver Pet Partners (DPP), the local affiliate of Pet Partners, has facility teams as far away Colorado Springs — and even Kansas. DPP has programs several times a year, and an added benefit of membership is their affiliation with the University of Denver’s Institute for Human Animal Connection (IHAC). DPP members are invited to participate in some of DU’s programs, and receive a discounted admission to their biannual IHAC conferences. https://www.denverpetpartners.org
Children’s Hospital Colorado: The Prescription Pet program at CHC was the first in the nation. There is no wait list to get in, and CCI COC dogs are an especially good fit — the behavioral standards for Prescription Pets tend to be higher than other therapy organizations. Call the Volunteer Services office at 720-777-6887. They will ask for your contact information, then some basic information on the dog (age, breed…). That will be passed on to the Prescription Pet program and they will get back to you.
More Questions? With two Canine Companions Change of Career dogs, our family is immersed in the therapy dog world. We have been involved with Children’s Hospital Colorado, Denver Pet Partners, R.E.A.D.®, Colorado Youth Boy’s Ranch (CYBR), IHAC, and a phenomenal reading program in central Denver called Partners in Literacy: https://www.partnersinliteracy.org