Delta Pet Partners is different from other therapy organizations in several ways. Firstly it is not comprised solely of canines, but includes horses, cats, pocket pets and other species.
Secondly Pet Partners requires re-evaluation every two years for handler and animal to ensure safety and the consistency of skills and temperament.
Thirdly, handler and animal are scored separately and the handler score overrides the animal if it is lower.
Fourthly, the Pet Partners evaluation is not simply Pass / Fail. There are four scores which could be achieved:
Complex – the highest level. This score means both handler and animal have achieved the highest skill set and the team is appropriate and ready to work in any and all environments. In cities where the facilities partner with Pet Partners and have ranked their populations and environment, only Complex teams can volunteer in Complex places. It is the rare team that achieves Complex their first evaluation. Usually at least a year’s experience brings a team to this level.
Predictable – exactly what it appears to be. This handler and animal are predictable in their behaviors and skills and can work in most environments with most populations. And in cities where the facilities have not been ranked by Pet Partners, Predictable teams can volunteer anywhere therapy animals are welcome.
Not Ready – this is a score that means the team did not pass and are Not Ready to go out into the public – just yet. To get a Not Ready the team has to score a Not Ready on any of the Skills components (Sit, Down, Stay, etc.) and on any of several of the Aptitude elements such as failing the restraining hug or clumsy petting. Is a team gets a Not Ready they can re-test with the goal of passing.
Not Appropriate – if a team receives a Not Appropriate they can never re-test with the Pet Partners program. It means the team at either end of the leash behaved in a way that would cause the evaluation to be stopped. This could be that the animal was barking, jumping, or displayed aggressive behaviors, continually vocalized or threatens human or animal in any way. It also can be given if the human treats people or animals inappropriate or harshly at any time, displays inappropriate conduct or is seen to kick, strike, yell or otherwise roughly handle their animal, or is under the influence etc.
Often a team is doing well but the animal displays clusters of stress signals, such as licking, panting, yawning. It is up to the evaluator to decide if the test should be stopped and if the animal can resume the same day or needs time to regroup which would result in a Not Ready.And sometimes a handler will make the very difficult decision that the stress brought out in their animal during the test was too much and even though they as the human desire becoming a therapy team, the animal just is not suitable or desirous of the close contact and other behaviors required.
It is not unusual for the most “friendly” animal to become stressed when presented by several new people in close contact in a small room surrounded by equipment and strangers and being asked to love each and every touch.
So not only is the Pet Partner training the most arduous, expecting the highest standard of excellence, but the testing process brings out the best in handler and animal – or confirms that they are just not cut out for this activity.