As you continue your journey to becoming a Pet Partner animal therapy team, what is next after you have attended the Handler Workshop?
It is now time to schedule your Evaluation and start thinking about where you want to volunteer.
Very few animals and humans are suitable for every environment, nor do they want to work with every population. If you are near a Pet Partner Affiliate team, it is a great idea to shadow without your animal to see what each facility / program entails.
Working one on one with a client with just your dog is very different from working with several other animals together. Working in a large facility with an ever-changing population is totally different from visiting a small place where you see the same people every time. Working in a school is very different from working in a hospital.
So we always recommend shadowing an experienced team whenever possible. And if you can shadow someone with an animal similar to yours, you can really learn handling skills by observing. And you learn how the animal is integrated into whatever therapies or programming is involved.
Most Affiliate programs have guidelines for each of their partner facilities and mentor you along when you begin so you are not just thrown out there to figure it out on your own.
Then when you have passed your Evaluation it is time to begin with your own animal. If you have shadowed and been to the actual facility you want to begin with, you know what to expect.
Consider all options with your Team Leader and see where the best fit would be. Some things to evaluate when choosing your first assignment includes:
Schedule – think about the amount of time you can commit to volunteering and the amount of work your dog can comfortably handle. Are you available during the day to work in a classroom or can you only volunteer evenings or weekends?
Setting– are you and your dog comfortable in a hospital/medical setting or would it be best to volunteer at a school or library
Pet Partners Rating– if you are a Predictable team, look for a quiet, predictable environment versus a Complex one where the visits are constantly changing, the people and stimuli unpredictable and you have little or no supervision.
Population– are you and your dog comfortable with the elderly or children, people with physical or mental challenges, etc.
Children– everyone says their dog is “great with children” but “what” children? Think specifically about what “children” – able-bodied or challenged, toddlers or teens, groups or one-on-one you as a team are best suited to work with
Team or Solo– do you enjoy working alongside other teams or want to go on your own with just your own dog
Location– how far are you willing to travel? Is your pet comfortable in the car and able to arrive at work in a stress-free state
Population turnover– would you prefer to see the same people over time in a facility such as a nursing home or long-term care facility or would you prefer to visit with a changing population (such as a hospital)
Grounds– there should be an area that is easy to access for your dog’s elimination
Flooring– some dogs are not comfortable on slick floors and work better on carpeted areas
Bathrooms– is your dog permitted in the restroom with you or do you have a team member who can be responsible for your dog
Staff– is the staff welcoming and embracing animal assisted therapy as part of the care team. Is there an existing animal assisted therapy program in place with an experienced coordinator or are you the first to visit
Length of visit– one hour is the norm; some teams visit for longer periods of time but keep in mind not to stress your pet or yourself
Expectations– understand your role in the specific facility and what is expected of you and your pet and what is not
Before your first day at a new facility, take a tour with your pet to let him become familiar with the sights and sounds and smells. Park where you will park and walk to the facility the route you will take, let your dog become familiar with the floor, elevator, stairs, layout, receptionist/security personnel and any area where you will be working.
Make sure your dog is clean, with nails clipped and fur freshly brushed and begin your new adventure with a big smile.
And always know that if a specific assignment isn’t working out well for you, you can speak with your Team Leader and make adjustments. The goal is always to have a safe, fun, value-added experience for both ends of the leash.