My Journey to a Therapy Dog – Part 1

By Sarah White, OT

I love my job.


I’ll say it again. I love my job. But let’s face it – there are days and sometimes weeks when I just get stuck in a rut. Don’t get me wrong, things are progressing. I always show up bright eyed and bushy tailed ready to work.


But I need a new interest, a new passion, to keep things exciting. That is our job, right? We need to be client-centered and provide the right challenge, not only for our clients but also for ourselves.


I had some ideas I was passionate about, but nothing worth following through on. After my first pet-free summer ever, my heart felt a bit empty and I felt somewhat isolated. This is very hard to believe, given that I have three young children and work in the summer. That emptiness can only be filled with something that offers unconditional love and of course constant attention.


A dog! “What??!,” my husband stammered. I had done my research before presenting the idea to him, with a list of specs for our families’ needs. The dog had to be


  • “hypoallergenic”
  • obedient
  • calm
  • highly trainable…


OK. Basically this dog has to be a dog-human that is not allowed on furniture. This dog had to be so fantastic that I could take it to work.


image1I located some breeders, and met my new dog-child. I had not planned on purchasing a dog quite yet. However, I also knew that sometimes dogs choose their new owners. That is when we met “Ted” (Teddy), a 9-week old Goldendoodle.


Now for my master plan of taking the dog to work.   I found two agencies that would work for me “Pet Partners” and “Love on a Leash”.


Both agencies were credible, reliable, and dependable. I had observed therapy dogs from both companies. Each agency had specific requirements before a dog could be part of a therapy team.


Not only does the dog need to fulfill these requirements, but so does the handler. I chose to use “Pet Partners” as my starting point. Ted cannot be evaluated to be part of a “therapy team” until he is at least one year old.


image2In the meantime we have a lot of work to do. Step 1– potty training (almost dependable and predictable!). Step 2– socialization (he is attending a 4H club called “Junior Tailwaggers” with his human sister. Step 3– obedience class (classes start in January).


Those are Ted’s jobs. My job as a handler begins by taking a Handler Course, various animal behavior courses, and disease and infection prevention classes, to name a few. There are also plenty of continuing education courses.


I am really nervous and excited to start this process. I look forward to sharing this experience with you. I know it will be challenging but also very rewarding.