We’ve decided it’s time to get a pet. What can you tell me about assistance dogs?
You’ve made the decision to get a pet! As if it’s not hard enough to decide upon what kind of animal would be the best pet for your child and your family, whether you want a specific breed or mix, and whether you want to establish a relationship with a breeder or go the rescue route, you also have the consideration of the specific role the pet will play in your child’s and family’s life and how official you’d like that role to be.
Most pet owners would agree that most pets have a therapeutic effect them and their loved ones. They would agree that their pets support & enrich their lives immeasurably. Yet most pets are not officially designated as “assistance”, “service” “companion”, “emotional support” or “therapy” pets. And to add to the mix (no pun intended!), there’s a distinct difference between registering and training these working animals. An assistance pet is one who provides some sort of assistance (i.e. service, companionship/emotional support) and a therapy pet or “pet therapist” is is an animal used in animal-assisted therapy or other activities to help a person work toward therapeutic goals. Animal training, if available, is strongly encouraged and often absolutely required.
To help you get started with your exploration of assistance pets, we have provided you with some resources. As you will see, as you begin your exploration, there is a good deal of information to review. Assistance Dogs International, www.assistancedogsinternational.org, has been involved with setting standards for assistance dogs since 1987. This website provides a thorough review related to access and other laws. Certapet, www.certapet.com, provides a nice review of laws related to emotional support animals, a group of assistance animals for which regulations seem less clear and training is generally not required.
When it comes to assistance pets, the organization we know best and regularly recommend is Canine Companions for Independence. Founded in 1975, Canine Companions for Independence® is a non-profit organization that enhances the lives of people with disabilities by providing highly trained assistance dogs free of charge and offering ongoing support to ensure quality partnerships. Learn more about Canine Companions and the four types of assistance dogs they raise, train and partner – service, hearing, facility and skilled companion dogs, at www.cci.org.
Canine Partners for Life (CPL) is a another non-profit 501©(3) organization dedicated to training service dogs, home companion dogs, and residential companion dogs to assist individuals who have a wide range of physical and cognitive disabilities. In operation for over twenty years, Canine Partners for Life (CPL) envisions that the lives of those they serve will be forever changed through the opportunities and independence afforded by a steadfast relationship with a service or companion dog. They also provide seizure alert, diabetes alert and cardiac alert dogs. A suggested donation, on a sliding scale, is requested as part of partnership arrangements. Visit www.k94life.org to find out more.
The Seeing Eye, www.seeingeye.org, is a philanthropic organization whose mission is to enhance the independence, dignity, and self-confidence of blind people through the use of Seeing Eye®dogs. While the Seeing Eye is specific in its service to the blind, this organization may be of interest to you because of their adoption program for their puppies who do not go on to actually becoming full fledged Seeing Eye dogs.
Pet therapy is a desirable alternative for those whose families cannot have pets but would like to have their children develop a relationship with an animal that is loving and therapeutic in nature. Therapy Dogs International, www.tdi-dog.org, is a volunteer organization dedicated to regulating, testing and registration of therapy dogs and their volunteer handlers for the purpose of visiting those in need. Home visits can be arranged through TDI. Creature Comfort Pet Therapy, www.ccpettherapy.org is a similar organization that provides facility-based visits. In addition to dogs, CCPT also works with other animals including cats and rabbits for animal assisted activities; a mini-horse has also been a part of their group.
While most of us are not likely to be able to have a horse at home as a pet, hippotherapy and equine assisted activities can meet a host of therapy objectives while also offering the opportunity to relate and care for a horse. Health and Recreation Through Horses, www.hrhofnj.org is a useful resource for equine organizations/stables/facilities. Rocking Horse Rehab, www.rockinghorserehab.com, is a pediatric rehabilitation and family wellness center located within an equestrian center. It specializes in equine assisted therapies along with alternative and traditional therapeutic programs. Over the years many children who receive Occupational, physical or speech/language therapy at Pediatric Therapeutics have been successfully involved in riding and other activities at Rocking Horse Rehab.
How many times have you heard somebody say that his/her pet makes him/her a better person? Given how often this is said, it’s a comment worthy of our attention, particularly when we’re looking for positive changes in one way or another! Your decision to get a pet and/or to explore various options that suit the needs of your child/family may very well be one of the best decisions you’ll ever make.
–Sheila Allen, MA, OT