Pets As Therapy
The Beastly Beasts have been Pets As Therapy dogs, visiting people at St Andrew's Healthcare since 2008. We love our visits and the people we see; it's one of the most rewarding things we do. If you think your dog would make a good PAT dog read on to find out what's involved and take a look at our page about St Andrew's Healthcare to find out what we get up to.
The main requirement is time. Your visits will become an integral part of peoples lives and hugely looked forward to; it is therefore really important that you can commit to doing those visits. It is better to commit visiting less often (say once a month) and do the visits than say that you'll do more only to find it is too much and miss visits or stop visiting.
Another thing you'll need is somewhere to visit. The area coordinator will often have a list of venues that have requested a dog to visit, but if you have a particular venue in mind that's fine; either way, there is a bit of paperwork to complete.
You must be at least 18 years old and will need to provide two character references to the charity. Some venues may require that you are DBS checked; check whether this is the case for your venue and if so whether they will pay for it.
There is an annual fee for being a PAT volunteer – £19 for individuals or £29 for joint applications at the time of writing.
For Your Dog
Being a Pets As Therapy dog is not for every dog and to ensure your dog is right for the role and the role is right for your dog there are a few conditions. Your dog must:
- be at least 9 months old
- have been with you for at least 6 months (this is so they know and trust you and will do the right thing in any situation)
- be healthy (PAT visits can be quite tiring)
- be fully vaccinated, wormed, and protected against fleas and ticks (unvaccinated and homoeopathically treated dogs cannot be PAT dogs)
- have a good temperament
What Makes a Good Pets As Therapy Dog?
- A love of life and people. The Beasts happy demeanour is obvious to all that meet them.
- Happy to approach and be approached by people. It depends on where you visit, but some of the people we see have motor control and speech difficulties and/or can not express themselves well. This means that some people won't initiate contact, while some do but do so clumsily and/or noisily. To some dogs this may be threatening simply because the person does not behave in a way that the dog has encountered before (bit like some humans in that regard). Once the dog realises the people aren't a threat very close bonds are often formed (bit like some humans in that regard too).
- Happy to interact with people on their terms. This kind of follows on from the previous point and Lilly and Wyn are good examples of this. We visit some young people who play with them and things can get noisy and exuberant. We also visit older people with dementia; without any specific training they are both calm and gentle with them.
Every every hound/human combination must be assessed. Some key points of the assessment are:
- The dog should be clean and well groomed. We're not talking show quality here, but the plan is to take your dog to see people and s/he should be at the very least "smart casual".
- The dog should be up for it without being "in your face". If you have drag your dog through the door perhaps s/he's not Pets As Therapy material; conversely, if you have to hang for dear life to prevent murder and mayhem perhaps they are not quite ready yet. Alert and eager to meet new people, and affectionate towards them with all four paws on the ground is perfect.
- People often like to give the dog a treat on visit and it is important that the dog does not snatch to get the treat, particularly if it is being held such that it is not accessible. The assessor will hold a treat in a fist; a sniff and a nuzzle is fine, teeth are not. When the treat is offered it should be taken in such a way that the assessor remains in possession of the same number of fingers they started with.
- Depending on where you visit, not everyone will perhaps know how or be able to pet a dog gently (they may have an illness that has diminished their coordination) and so the dog is checked to make sure it will tolerate being touched anywhere and firmly.
- There is always the possibility that something might get dropped that your dog should not approach, e.g. food, medication, or something happens that means you need to get and keep out of the way for a bit. You will be asked to demonstrate bringing the dog to you quickly then holding them next you; your dog must not resist this.
- But apparently where most dogs fail is the sudden noise test. This is to simulate a dropped walking stick, knocked over walking frame, or similar. The test is a cake tin, tray, or similar dropped so it clatters on the floor behind (but a distance from) the dog. The dog can startle and/or be wary but must not try to bolt. You can calm your dog but it must take notice. Because we have steel feeding bowls at Beast Barracks, to a hound every Beast has gone to investigate; the ideal response.
The assessment perhaps reads as being more onerous than it is in reality. If you have a good relationship with your dog and they are well behaved they stand a pretty good chance of coping with the assessment.
If being a PAT dog/handler sounds like it is for your dog and you, go to the Join Us page on the Pets As Therapy website and fill in the form; it really will be one of the best things you ever do.
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59 Monument Business Park
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