Animal-Assisted Therapy

Animal-Assisted TherapyAbove & Beyond

Nothing heals quite like the love of an animal.

Our Animal-Assisted Therapy program brings pets and their guardians to visit people in 58 different care facilities in Marin, including convalescent and acute care hospitals, senior communities, and special day classes in Marin public schools. Volunteers and their pets work with staff to assist with therapy, bringing joy and companionship to people who often spend their days feeling isolated.

We’ve worked with Marin General Hospital for more than 20 years, bringing dogs to patients in many departments including cardiac care, intensive care, the mental health crisis unit, and the senior day program. At Kaiser Hospital, our Animal-Assisted Therapy teams visit both the inpatient hospital and the outpatient oncology department. We also visit people in in-home nursing programs and hospice and provide one-on-one visits to individuals in their homes.

Our volunteer dog and handler teams also work closely with teachers to help children with disabilities focus on their lessons and improve their academics. Our Animal-Assisted Therapy program also provides a special education program, The Kindness Club, to all the classes at the Marin Academic Center, the school for the Sunny Hills Children’s Garden program.

Contact the Community Engagement department for more information about our Animal-Assisted Therapy program.

Program FAQs

I am interested in volunteering with your Animal Assisted Therapy Program. How do I get started?

Volunteers and their dogs are required to take a class called Your Dog to Share to prepare them to be a part of the program. The class consists of learning to read your dog’s body language, safety skills for you and your dog, mock visits with introduction to equipment (wheelchairs, walkers, etc.), bed visits, interaction with children, a panel discussion, homework that includes field trips and shadow visits with other active, experienced volunteers, and an offsite graduation at a senior community/ rehabilitation center.

All dogs coming into the class need to have good basic skills, including sit, down, stay and recall. Marin Humane’s Good Citizen Test for Dogs is part of the class, so your dog must be able to pass this test. There are other skills that are a must for AAT, including excellent loose-leash walking (with distractions), a “wait” command, and greeting people politely (no jumping or too much excitement). We also use the touch command for a variety of ways to help control and maneuver dogs in small spaces. The “leave it” command is also a great skill.

If your dog has achieved these skills through our Family Dog classes (usually by taking Family Dog 1, 2, and 3) or through work independent of our classes, then they are ready. If you come to class and your dog is not ready, it can be very frustrating. You need to be confident that your dog is going to be well-behaved and able to pay attention to your direction, so the AAT visits will be successful. These required skills will not be taught in class.

Our classes do not “certify” your animal to visit anywhere at anytime. All Animal-Assisted Therapy volunteer teams are assigned by the program coordinator to visit various venues, including senior communities, skilled care facilities, acute care and rehabilitation hospitals, schools, libraries, and private residences.

To get started as a volunteer for the Marin Humane, you will need to attend one of our volunteer orientations (take a peek at upcoming dates). After this orientation, you can register for the Your Dog to Share class through Behavior & Training. If you go on to volunteer for Marin Humane, your dog must be spayed or neutered and you will need to have a health certificate completed for your dog.

What is the difference between a therapy dog and a service dog?

Service Animals are legally defined (Americans With Disabilities Act, 1990) and are trained to meet the disability-related needs of their handlers who have disabilities. Federal laws protect the rights of individuals with disabilities to be accompanied by their service animals in public places. Service animals are not considered ‘pets’.

Therapy Animals are not legally defined by federal law, but some states have laws defining therapy animals. They provide people with contact to animals but are not limited to working with people who have disabilities. They are usually the personal pets of their handlers and work with their handlers to provide services to others. Federal laws have no provisions for people to be accompanied by therapy animals in places of public accommodation that have “no pets” policies. Therapy animals are not usually service animals.

A Companion Animal is not legally defined, but is accepted as another term for pet.

‘Social/therapy’ Animals have no legal definition. They often are animals that did not complete service animal or service dog training due to health, disposition, trainability, or other factors, and are made available as pets for people who have disabilities. These animals might or might not meet the definition of service animals.

Above info from Pet Partners.

I want to prepare my puppy to be a part of your program. What should I do?

The best way to prepare a puppy for visiting is to socialize, socialize, and socialize. Expose your puppy to a variety of places and people (be sure your puppy has had their required series of vaccinations). Introduce the puppy to wheelchairs, canes, and carts of any kind and, if possible, visit a senior community (with permission from the facility). Handle your puppy all the time, all over his/her body, and get your puppy used to being handled by other people besides you. Be sure to teach your puppy the polite way to greet people, with no jumping up or too much excitement. Start taking classes with your puppy as soon as he/she is old enough. Classes will not only teach your puppy the basics and good manners, it also is one of the best ways to bond with your canine companion. Read over how to get started as an Animal-Assisted Therapy team and start working with those skills every day with your puppy. It is important that your puppy has their “puppyhood” before they start to work. Depending on the individual dog, most are not ready for the Your Dog to Share classes until they are at least 18 months.

You may do all these things when your dog is a puppy and then your dog may still not be a good visiting animal. A dog’s temperament is related to who they are as individuals, their genetics, and their breed or mix of breeds. Some dogs are more interested in socializing with people versus with other dogs. But some are not. Hopefully, your puppy will be as interested in becoming part of an Animal-Assisted Therapy team as you are!