Getting Started with Pet Partners
About this Page
Muka and me visiting with a patient
I created this page to assist people interested in becoming involved in therapy animal work. My dog and I volunteer as a registered Pet Partners team at Legacy Salmon Creek Hospital in Vancouver, WA.
I also volunteer as a licensed Pet Partners Instructor, and teach the Pet Partners Handler Course to students in the greater Vancouver, WA – Portland, OR area. And I serve as President of Columbia River Pet Partners, a local organization of Pet Partners teams.
The Handler Course is designed for anyone interested in volunteering with their pet. It fulfills the handler training required to continue on to Pet Partners team evaluation and registration. The course provides the handler with the knowledge to successfully conduct therapy animal work, as well as the knowledge necessary to prepare for the Pet Partners evaluation.
Pet Partners teams consist of the handler and their animal (dog, cat, rabbit, bird...), and volunteer in a wide variety of facilities including schools, libraries, retirement homes, assisted living homes, nursing homes, hospitals and hospices.
I hope you will join us and begin sharing your animal's love with those in need. I will be glad to help you in any way I can, no matter where you live.
Introduction to Therapy Animals
This page will give you a good overview of therapy animal work:
Introduction to Therapy Animals
It covers how therapy animals heal, the various types of facilities in which they serve, and many other interesting topics.
As you will read, the majority of therapy animal work is classified as Animal Assisted Activities (AAA). Typical examples include visits to patients in hospitals and residents in retirement homes.
However, registered Pet Partners are also qualified to work with physical and mental health professionals. This work is classified as Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT), and sessions are designed to help the client achieve specific goals such as increased mobility or improved memory.
On the above page you will also find answers to the following frequently asked questions:
Can a therapy dog visit my relative?
Can I take my therapy dog to work with me?
How do I train my puppy to be a therapy dog?
Pet Partners Video
This video presents an overview of the Pet Partners Therapy Animal Program:
Carefully review the criteria for prospective therapy animals and handlers on the Pet Partners website:
And before going any further, you should also carefully read:
Pet Partners Therapy Animal Program Policies and Procedures
This video discusses acceptable and unacceptable equipment (leashes, collars, harnesses and brushes) for use on visits and during your evaluation:
This video provides a demonstration of a Pet Partners evaluation and will give you a good idea of how an evaluation is conducted:
This page shares what I have learned observing evaluations:
How to Prepare for a Pet Partners Evaluation
The tips I share come both from watching people pass and watching people fail. They will help you prepare for your evaluation, and help you avoid the common mistakes handlers make.
You can skip the above page until after you have taken the Handler Course and are preparing for your evaluation.
Community Partner Groups
Columbia River Pet Partners is a Vancouver, WA-based Community Partner of the national Pet Partners organization, serving the communities of the Columbia River Basin in the greater Vancouver–Portland area and beyond.
Our primary activity is reaching out to people with big hearts, a little spare time and a well-behaved animal, and helping them through the process of becoming registered therapy animal teams serving their communities. If you live in this region, we would like to help you!
Please visit our membership page for an explanation of the relationship between Columbia River Pet Partners and the national Pet Partners organization. This will help you understand why you would want to join Columbia River Pet Partners, Pet Partners, or both:
Membership in Columbia River Pet Partners
If you live outside this area, you can see if there is a local Pet Partners organization in your area here:
Local Therapy Animal Organizations
The Steps to Registration with Fees
There are four steps to becoming a registered Pet Partners team:
1. Handler Course: The Handler Course may be taken either on-line or in-person, but those who can get to a class find it a much more enjoyable and fulfilling learning process.
The fee for the on-line Handler Course is $70, while fees for in-person courses vary greatly.
2. Evaluation: The fee for an evaluation is around $25, and you may not pass the first time.
3. Animal Health Screening: You may also have to pay for a health examination for your animal if your animal has not had one in the past year.
A Pet Partners Animal Health Screening form must be completed by your vet and submitted with your registration.
While you don't submit this form until after both your class and your evaluation, if you happen to be making a healthy visit to your vet before registration time you might as well have your vet complete the form. It will remain valid for one year.
4. Registration: Pet Partners registration fees are listed on the Pet Partners website:
Pet Partners Registration Fees
Columbia River Pet Partners' fees are as follows:
Handler Course – $50.00 includes Handler Guide and handouts
Handler Course Companion – $25.00 includes handouts only
Evaluation Practice – $10.00 (free to CRPP members and Handler Course students)
Evaluation – $25.00 (free to CRPP members)
Finding Courses and Evaluations
Columbia River Pet Partners Classroom
Upcoming Pet Partners courses and evaluations are listed on the Pet Partners website. To view the listings, you must follow the first steps of what will eventually lead to your registration:
1. Go to the Pet Partners website:
Pet Partners Website
2. Click on the LOGIN button.
3. Under the heading Become a Volunteer, enter your name, zip code and e-mail address, then click on the SIGN UP button.
4. Follow the instructions, which will have you entering more information about yourself and your animal. Then you will be able to see a list of all the additional steps you'll eventually be taking to complete your registration.
5. In that list you can click on Handler Course or Team Evaluation, and follow the instructions to view the listings.
Columbia River Pet Partners courses and evaluations are also listed here:
Columbia River Pet Partners Courses & Evaluations
Are You Ready?
Bowing Our Heads in a Waiting Room, a Popular Request
Working the waiting room of a hospital, a man asked me about signing up to join us with his dog. He seemed very interested, and so I spent 20 minutes talking to him about therapy dog work. I was excited to possibly be recruiting him.
Then he told me that he'd inquired at another hospital, and said they were "ridiculous." They wanted him to go through an orientation class, and he'd have none of that!
What was he thinking? Should just anyone, even a registered therapy animal team, be able to wander through a hospital visiting patients without first learning about the hospital layout, volunteer procedures, disease prevention and patient privacy regulations?
While it might be a much simpler process to start making visits to your mom's retirement home, in order to help people through therapy animal work you and your animal have to be trained, evaluated, registered, and then become a volunteer for the facility you will be visiting as well as a volunteer for Pet Partners.
The purpose of the Are You Ready? topics is to help you realize all that is involved, and to be sure that you are ready to begin. I'm not trying to discourage you; I want to do everything I can to encourage you. But I also want to do my best to spend my time helping those who are likely to follow through after class and continue on with evaluation, registration, and volunteering in their community.
When I first heard someone speak on therapy dog work, I immediately became excited about getting involved. But the speaker cautioned me that my dog might not be ready until he was three or four years old. We started before he was two, but my second dog might not be ready until he's forty!
He's a wonderful pet and companion, and would do just great cuddling with a patient on a hospital bed. But first he'd likely re-open the patient's surgery and knock out their IV tubing.
Here are some points to consider before beginning the process of becoming a registered therapy animal team:
Dogs must have an essential set of basic obedience skills including a reliable sit, down, stay, come and leave it, and the ability to walk on a loose leash and take a treat nicely.
You must be able to maintain good control of your animal at all times, as is required on a visit.
If you and your animal aren't at this skill level at this time, please don't be discouraged. Perhaps you can enroll in a basic obedience course, or work with a professional trainer. Though you don't need a professional if you can teach these basic skills yourself.
Muka outside Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center
Attributes of a Great 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, e.g., doesn't jump up on people
Able to be redirected on cue, including being directed away from objects such as food and toys
Able to cope with stressful situations
Comfortable around health care equipment
Attributes of a Great Therapy Animal 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 partner
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
Assesses each visit before, during and after
So, Are You Ready?
If you're still not sure, I have a couple of great suggestions to help you decide. In fact, I recommend them both even if you are sure! They both really helped me.
1. Are you and your animal ready to pass an evaluation?
You've watched the video of an evaluation (see Resources, above), but the best way to get the feel of an evaluation is to attend one in person. Contact the evaluator and arrange to attend either as an observer or a volunteer.
Volunteering for a half day is best, and you don't have to know what to do ahead of time. You will simply be playing the role of a person in a facility during the evaluations.
It's a great way to learn what is expected of you and your animal as you see some teams pass their evaluations so easily, while you learn even more from seeing other teams fail.
2. In what type of facility would you like to work, and would you and your animal partner be comfortable working there?
A wonderful way to learn about the different possibilities is to shadow teams as they work. I shadowed teams in hospitals, retirement homes, and read-to-dog programs in libraries before becoming involved myself.
Don't feel bad if you aren't comfortable dealing with children and what they are going through in a hospital; others will relish the opportunity. And the same goes for having the patience to deal with the elderly, or children reading to dogs.
It is extremely important that we find volunteer work that we enjoy, as that is where we will have the most to give to others.
This video presents an overview of our work at Legacy Salmon Creek Hospital.