The Steps to Become a Registered Therapy Animal Team


 Pet Partners and Columbia River Pet Partners

 Program Requirements

 Therapy, Service and Emotional Support Animals

 Acceptable Equipment

 Handler Course

 Team Evaluation

 Animal Health Screening

 Attributes of a Great Therapy Animal and Handlerv

 The Next Step


Thank you for your interest in becoming a registered therapy animal team.

We founded our local Pet Partners organization, Columbia River Pet Partners, with the primary goal of increasing the number of therapy animal teams volunteering in our communities. So needless to say, we would be thrilled to guide you through the process.

It takes a number of steps and a good bit of work to become a registered therapy animal team, and so we created this reading assignment to help you decide if it's something you really want to do. Though we don't mean to discourage you!

The reading will provide an overview of Pet Partners and the steps necessary to become a registered team, and will help you decide if you and your animal are well-suited for this highly rewarding venture.

Hint:  If you have a big heart, a little spare time and a well-behaved animal, you're probably a good fit!

For a complete understanding of the program, be sure to follow all the links and read those pages too, and watch all the videos.

Peter Christensen
President, Columbia River Pet Partners
Contact Us

This video presents an overview of Pet Partners' Therapy Animal Program

Pet Partners and Columbia River Pet Partners

Program Requirements

Carefully review the criteria for prospective therapy animals and handlers on the Pet Partners website:

 Program Requirements

While all elements of the Program Requirements are important, here we would like to point out a few which have been key in excluding individuals from participation.

1. Species:  Pet Partners accepts dogs (any breed), cats, birds, guinea pigs, pot-bellied pigs, rabbits, horses, llamas, alpacas and rats.

2. Raw Meat Diet:  Animals may not be on a raw meat diet. It's the same concern you have preparing chicken on your kitchen counter, then preparing a salad in the same spot. We don't want our animals' mouths carrying something that could be harmful to our clients, especially when so many have weakened immune systems.

3. Aggression:  Animals may not have a history of aggression, or of injuring either people or other companion animals.

4. 2-Hour Visit Limit:  As our animals must constantly obey us while visiting, the work is stressful for them and our visiting is limited to 2 hours per day.

5. 24-Hour Bathing Policy:  Pet Partners' policy is that your animal should be bathed within 24 hours of a visit and kept clean until the visit. However, there can be exceptions. For example, if you visit frequently, it might be impractical or harmful for your animal to be bathed before each visit. If this is an issue for you, please discuss it with us.

6. No Chain in Collars and Leashes:  Metal chain is not allowed in collars and leashes. It doesn't have the warm, welcoming look Pet Partners would like to project.

You may also be interested in the answers to these frequently asked questions:

 Can a therapy animal visit my relative?

 Can I take my therapy animal to work with me?

And before going any further, you should also carefully read:

 Pet Partners Therapy Animal Program Policies and Procedures

 Do not skip over the Policies and Procedures as you might a Facebook or Amazon user agreement. You must comply with them on every visit with your therapy animal.

Therapy, Service and Emotional Support Animals

This webpage provides an introduction to therapy animals. It explains how they heal, and discusses the various types of facilities in which they serve.

 Therapy Animals

But you need to know more!

Once you start visiting, you will be asked if your animal is a service animal. It's important that you understand the difference between therapy and service animals.

But you need to know still more!

You will undoubtedly meet someone who tells you their animal is a therapy animal. You will ask who they are registered with, and they will reply that they have a letter from their doctor.

Say what? You could hardly say they are wrong. Their doctor's letter explains that their animal is needed for mental therapy, and refers to the animal as a therapy animal. But is it?

In fact, their animal is an emotional support animal.

Learn about the differences between all three types of animals here:

Acceptable Equipment

This video discusses acceptable and unacceptable equipment (leashes, collars, harnesses and brushes) for use on visits and during your evaluation.

 Toward the end of the video the narrator states, "Remember, whatever equipment you evaluate in is the equipment you are to visit in." It should state, "whatever type of equipment you evaluate in is the type of equipment you are to visit in."

For example, you can evaluate with a 4' leash, but visit with a 6' leash; replace your leash with a leash of a similar type; replace your harness with a harness of a similar type; and so on.

Handler Course

The Handler Course is the first step for anyone interested in volunteering with their pet. It fulfills the handler training required to continue on to the Pet Partners Team Evaluation and registration.

The course provides the information and training necessary to prepare you to volunteer effectively with your animal as a Pet Partners therapy animal team in a variety of environments.

 Pet Partners does not train the animals in the program because only basic obedience and socialization are required. You can train your animal yourself or hire any good trainer.

If you have a puppy, you may find this information presented on the Pet Partners' website helpful:

 Preparing Your Puppy to be a Therapy Dog

The Handler Course may be taken either on-line or in an in-person workshop. The $70 on-line course is self-paced, and you can take it over a day, weekend or a few weeks.

At the conclusion of either course, you must pass an on-line test in order to receive your certificate of completion. You can study further and re-take the test if necessary.

 You do not have to be capable of passing the Team Evaluation (next topic) before you enroll in the Handler Course. In fact, very often people take the course when their animals are still very young to better understand what they have to work toward.

Please contact us when you are ready to enroll in the Handler Course and we will discuss the on-line and in-person workshop options and provide specific enrollment instructions.

Team Evaluation

This video provides a demonstration of a Pet Partners evaluation and will give you an idea of how an evaluation is conducted. Total playtime is 16 minutes.

After taking the Handler Course, you will find Evaluation Tips extremely helpful in preparing for your evaluation. It discusses steps you can take to prepare for your evaluation, and presents tips to help you avoid common mistakes.

 You might think it a no-brainer to sign up to evaluate a few weeks after your Handler Course, but we would like to explain why we do not believe it is a good idea.

(It is important that you understand that you can sign up for an evaluation anytime you like with any evaluator you like. Our opinion is only meant to suggest a course of action we believe will help ensure your success.)

We know from experience that students who sign up to evaluate before they have practiced all of the evaluation exercises often drop out before their evaluation date. This not only creates havoc with our planning, but is inconsiderate to those who were forced to find other evaluations because ours was full. These people have the best of intentions when they sign up, but life gets in the way of their plans to practice or their animal doesn't perform as anticipated.

Therefore we discourage teams from signing up before they have practiced and feel they are prepared to evaluate. We recognize that this lengthens the process, but it's a one-time process that we believe to be well worth the time and effort.

Also, often teams that fail their first evaluations never return to try again.

Please contact us when you are ready to sign up for a Team Evaluation and we will discuss options and provide specific enrollment instructions.

Animal Health Screening

Completing the Animal Health Screening form is a very quick and simple step in the process of becoming a registered team. It's a simple form that your vet needs to sign to show that your animal is in good health. We only mention it here to clarify when it has to be completed.

It comes early in the list of registration steps on the Pet Partner website, but in fact doesn't need to be completed until you are completing your registration after you have passed your evaluation.

However, it is valid for a full year from the date your vet signs the form. So if you are going to the vet for a healthy check-up, and think you might be evaluating within the year, you might as well have your vet sign the form.

Animal Health Screening forms are available in the Pet Partners Volunteer Center Resource Library.

Attributes of a Great Therapy Animal and Handler

Below you will find lists of attributes that make a great team. But you don't need to have all these attributes at the time you begin your journey. In fact, often students take the Handler Course when their dogs are only puppies.

What is important is that you are confident that you know what is ahead, and that you are dedicated to completing the process.

Muka began work as a therapy dog before he was two

The Therapy Animal:

 Controllable, predictable and reliable, even with distractions

 Friendly and confident

 People-oriented and sociable such that they enjoy visiting

 Comfortable being crowded by a group of people and touched, sometimes awkwardly

 Non-aggressive and well-mannered with both people and other animals

 Will initiate contact, and yet respects personal boundaries

 Able to be redirected on cue, including being directed away from people and objects

 Able to cope with stressful situations

 Comfortable around health care equipment

 The animal must also have the following essential skills:

 Walk on a leash without pulling





 Leave it!

 Take treats nicely

 The animal must also have the following good manners:

 No jumping on people or furniture

 Minimal if any vocalizing, stoppable on cue

 Minimal if any licking, stoppable on cue

 Can walk past other animals without displaying aggression or excessive fear

 Refrains from intrusive behaviors (nosing around)

 Reliably housebroken

The Handler:

 Willing to make commitments and keep them

 Interested in people

 Friendly, making eye contact and smiling

 Good communicators with their animal, facility staff, and the people they meet during visits

 Confident and natural in their interactions

 A good listener

 Demonstrates a loving relationship with their animal

 A proactive advocate for their animal, watching for signs of stress and taking actions to control the situation

 Prepares themselves and their animal appropriately for each visit

 Knows how to help their animal be at its best in serving others

Some of the most wonderful of pets aren't cut out for therapy animal work

The Next Step

If you have carefully read the above, followed all the links and watched all the videos, and you didn't see anything to make you think otherwise, you are ready to sign up for the Handler Course.

This assignment has not only given you a valuable introduction to the Pet Partners Therapy Animal Program, but has helped to ensure that it is a program you are fully invested in and capable of pursuing. We are confident you will find volunteering with your animal to be rewarding beyond your greatest expectations.

Thank you for your time, and please let us know what we can do to help you.

Peter Christensen
President, Columbia River Pet Partners
Contact Us

Peter and Mukaluka Dirtypaws at Legacy Salmon Creek Hospital