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Become a Handler
We’re excited to know that you are interested in becoming a therapy animal handler with your animal! While therapy dogs make up 94% of the teams in our Therapy Animal Program, we register eight other species too.
How do I become a volunteer?
Download our registration form here >>
Pet Partners is a nationwide program registering therapy animal teams of nine diverse species for volunteer work. Our teams visit hospitals, nursing homes, and schools, among many other facilities.
To become a volunteer therapy animal team, you and your animal will need to complete a registration. Team registration is the process you will go through to demonstrate that you and your animal are suitable and prepared for therapy animal work.
Is the therapy animal program a good fit for me?
We strongly encourage you to take a look at the following resources to help you decide if the program will be a good fit for you and your animal:
Thoroughly review Pet Partner’s Program Policies & Procedures
Find out if the program is established in your area. Run a zip code search and consult our calendar of events.
Attend a Volunteering with Your Pet webinar to learn more about the program from a current volunteer.
What is involved in a first-time registration with Pet Partners?
- Create an account in the Volunteer Center.
- Take the Pet Partners Handler’s Course
The key to safe and effective visits is the training for the “human end of the leash.” The handler’s course is not an animal training course. Instead, it will provide you with a thorough background in the responsibilities and necessary considerations for successful volunteering in any facility you wish to visit.
The course can be taken either in person, if an instructor lives in your area, or online. The in-person course is a great opportunity to ask questions of experienced Pet Partners volunteers and make connections in your local community. However, there may not always be a course in your area at a time that works in your schedule, so the online course has been built with that in mind.
- Animal Health Screening Form
Our Animal Health Screening Form will be signed by your veterinarian, confirming that your animal is healthy and able to participate in the program.
- Team Evaluation
The team evaluation is a mock therapy animal visit conducted with a Pet Partners licensed evaluator. The evaluator will assess your ability to interpret and manage your animal’s behavior, as well as your animal’s response to your cues. Make sure to have the Acceptable Equipment ready for your evaluation!
- Check your Registration Checklist: is everything complete?
The online registration process provides a checklist to help you follow along with what you have finished and what is left to do. We will not request your registration payment until your application is completed in full, reviewed, and approved.
What are the costs associated with a first time registration?
Pet Partners relies on a combination of program fees and donations to provide volunteer services, including Pet Partners’ liability insurance, continuing education programming, and a qualified staff who advocate for and educate about the Therapy Animal Program.
All prospective handlers must take the Handler’s Course. The cost of the course online is $70. In person workshops, taught by a local instructor, vary in cost depending on the expenses the instructor is taking on to provide the course and materials. Check the calendar of events for more information about workshop fees.
Click here to read about Pet Partners’ registration fee structure. This fee is paid after your application is completed and approved.
What are the benefits of becoming a Pet Partners team?
- Comprehensive insurance coverage for your visits
- Access to our database of Volunteer Opportunities
- High quality continuing education courses available free or at discounted prices
- Opportunity to participate in the Read With Me™ program, included with your registration
- Being a part of the most prestigious therapy animal program in the U.S.
Can I be registered with Pet Partners and another group simultaneously?
Pet Partners is the leader in safe and effective therapy animal visitation. There are increased risks when teams register with multiple registries and operate under different codes of conduct, policies, procedures, and participation criteria. In order to be fully covered by Pet Partners’ insurance policy, volunteers must represent Pet Partners and may not affiliate with another organization that registers therapy animal teams or charges a fee to participate in their program when Pet Partners has a similar offering. Pet Partners does not have any restrictions on its teams visiting a facility while other therapy animal volunteers who are not members of Pet Partners are present.
Pet Partners is proud to register nine different species for therapy animal work. Although the majority of our teams are dogs, we also register cats, equines, rabbits, guinea pigs, llamas and alpacas, birds, pigs and rats.
Criteria for Prospective Therapy Animals
Pet Partners Therapy Animals:
- Are at least 1 year old at the time of evaluation, or 6 months old for rabbits, guinea pigs and rats
- Have lived in the owner’s home for at least 6 months, or 1 year for birds
- Must be reliably house trained. Waste collection devices are not permitted, with the exception of flight suits for birds.
- Be currently vaccinated against rabies. Rabbits, guinea pigs, rats and birds are exempt from this requirement. Titers are not accepted in lieu of vaccination.
- May not be fed a raw protein diet
- Have no history of aggression or seriously injuring either people or other companion animals. This includes animals who have been trained to aggressively protect and/or have been encourage to bite, even if it is a component of dog sport, such as Schutzhund.
- Demonstrate good basic obedience skills, such as walking on a loose leash, and responding reliably to common commands such as “sit,” “down,” “stay,” “come” and “leave it”
- Welcome, not just tolerate, interactions with strangers
- Be comfortable with wearing Pet Partners Approved Equipment
Animals with an Illness
Animal welfare and infection control are key principles in the Pet Partners Therapy Animal Program. Asking animals to make therapy animal visits when they are not healthy increases stress and can lead to a worsened condition. Additionally, you may visit clients with compromised immune systems who would be at risk for transmission of zoonotic diseases.
If your animal is taking antibiotics, antifungals or immune-suppressants they will be unable to register and visit until they have finished treatment.
Animals with a Disability
Pet Partners does register animals with disabilities as long as visiting does not aggravate the medical condition. If your animal’s disability may require accommodations to the evaluation, please contact us at petpartners.org we’d be happy to discuss the specifics of your particular situation.
Criteria for Prospective Handlers
Successful handlers will be able to:
- Read their animal’s particular body language and recognize when their animal is stressed, anxious, concerned, overstimulated or fatigued
- Demonstrate positive interactions with their animal by praising, cueing, encouraging and reassuring the animal as needed
- Cue or redirect their animal without raising their voice, forcefully jerking on the leash or offering the animal food or toys
- Make casual conversation with those they meet on visits while still being attentive to their animal
- Guide the interactions of others with the animal in a professional and polite manner
- Advocate for the safety and well-being of their animal at all times
Please note: Pet Partners handlers may not be concurrently registered with another therapy animal organization that provides a similar program. All handlers must also have a unique email address in order to register with the Therapy Animal Program.
Volunteers Who Are Minors
Pet Partners welcomes handlers as young as 10 years old. If you are under the age of 16, you must be accompanied on all visits by a parent/guardian or an adult appointed by the parent/guardian. All individuals under the age of 18 must have permission to participate from a parent or guardian, which is collected during the application process.
Volunteers with a Disability
Pet Partners works with handlers with a disability, including those with service animals. If your disability may require accommodations to the evaluation, please contact us and we’d be happy to discuss the specifics of your particular situation.
Volunteers Who Don’t Own the Animal
You may volunteer with the animal of a friend or family member, as long as you have known and been working with the animal for at least 6 months (or 1 year for birds) and have the permission of the animal owner. Effective therapy animal teams are based on a strong bond between the handler and animal. Pet Partners relies on handlers to have a strong relationship with their animal so they can read body language and signals that their animal may be tired, stressed, anxious or fearful and then support them accordingly.
Do You Inspire Confidence as a Team?
After you have reviewed all the basic requirements, this is the question that will truly determine your ability to become a successful team. Therapy animals must inspire confidence in those they meet, so they should consistently demonstrate that they’re well-behaved and have good manners. The three terms Pet Partners uses to describe this desired behavior are reliable, predictable and controllable. When you can predict your animal’s reactions, you can take action to ensure a reliable response and maintain control of your animal in any situation. When clients and facility staff perceive that you’re in control of your animal, they’ll have confidence in you and your animal when you come for visits.
Volunteer Policies and Procedures
Pet Partners has a deep regard and respect for its therapy animal teams and the important role that they play in meeting the needs of the people they interact with. Pet Partners also has high expectations regarding conduct of its teams.
Pet Partners Therapy Animal Program Policies and Procedures
- I will abide by all Pet Partners policies and procedures, and I will adhere to the guidelines that are set forth in the Pet Partners Handler Guide and in associated updates.
- I will represent the program in a professional manner: for example, by observing rules of privacy and confidentiality, being on time for visits, not being under the influence of drugs/alcohol, and being well-groomed and professionally dressed in accordance with facility dress codes.
- I will uphold the code of ethics.
- I will visit only with animals that are registered with Pet Partners and with only one animal at a time. I understand that, for safety and liability reasons, visiting may not exceed 2 hours per team per day.
- I will make sure that each facility that I visit has access to these Pet Partners policies and procedures so they understand what guidelines I already follow as a visiting team.
- I will abide by all policies, procedures and precautions of Pet Partners and each facility I visit. If Pet Partners and my facility have two different policies on the same topic, the more conservative of the two will apply.
- I will be responsible for my animal at all times, considering its needs and humane care first.
- I will always stay with my animal and remain in control of the situation with the lead in my hand. I will never tie animals to people, equipment or furniture while visiting.
- I will clean up after my animal both inside and outside the facility, and I will abide by any facility-required cleanup rules.
- For safety reasons, all animals must wear a collar or harness and be on lead, and the handler must hold the lead at all times, including during breaks.
- Before each visit, I will abide by the Pet Partners grooming guidelines.
- I will visit only in accordance with the Pet Partners health requirements.
- I understand that animals must not be on a raw protein diet at any time during their role as a therapy animal, and that animals from a household where a raw protein diet is fed are precluded from participating in the Therapy Animal Program.
- I understand that I am required to wear my Pet Partners identification badge (in addition to any identification required by the facility) while providing or promoting AAI as a registered team.
- I will not borrow money or personal items or receive any personal gratuity or gift, such as money or jewelry, from the people that I visit. Likewise, I understand that it isn’t routinely acceptable to give gifts to the people that I visit, even small gifts such as candy and cookies.
- I will not charge a fee for services that I perform in my role as a therapy animal handler.
- In the event of an accident or unusual occurrence, I will stop visiting immediately. I will report, without reservation, all details of the incident to Pet Partners and follow Pet Partners’ direction, with the understanding that all information will be treated sensitively and with complete confidentiality.
- I will not take photographs or video of the people that I visit without first obtaining the signed consent of the client, or a legal guardian or custodian of the client. I will use the Pet Partners photo and video release waiver provided on Pet Partners’ website to obtain the client’s consent unless a facility provides its own photograph and video release form. Instant photos might be acceptable, but only if the photo is left with the client and if permission has been granted by the client and the facility.
- I understand that I must obtain approved written permission from Pet Partners for each proposed use of Pet Partners logo or name in conjunction with the logo or name of any other organization.
- I understand that, as a handler, I am not authorized to administer the Pet Partners Skills Test (PPST) or the Pet Partners Aptitude Test (PPAT) unless I am currently a licensed team evaluator. In addition, I am not authorized to teach the Pet Partners Handler Course unless I am currently a licensed instructor.
- When approaching a facility for the first time, I will find out whether any other teams are already visiting there or if there are facility animals present. If there are, I will respect those existing relationships while also making the responsible choices for myself and my animaI understand that my animal must visit in the same type of equipment that it was evaluated in, and that a change in equipment requires a re-evaluation.
- I understand that, any time that I am re-evaluated, the team qualification rating from the new evaluation will supersede the rating from the previous evaluation. The new rating applies immediately, even if the team’s registration period hasn’t yet expired. For example, if a renewing team is scored “Not Ready,” the team’s registration period expires early.
- I understand that I must receive formal notification from Pet Partners about my registration status and qualifications (for example, an acceptance or renewal letter) before I may visit as a registered therapy animal team.
- I understand that therapy animals can wear a seasonal or holiday scarf when making visits; however, for the safety of the clients and the animals, animals and handlers may not be dressed in costumes when making visits.
Code of Ethics
- Perform duties that are consistent with your position and training.
- Abide by the professional ethics of your profession and organizations.
- Demonstrate a belief in and attitude of reverence for all life.
- At all times, treat all animals, all people and the environment with respect, dignity and sensitivity, maintaining the quality of life and experience for all who are involved.
- Be informed and educated about the aspects and issues that are related to AAI.
- Demonstrate commitment, responsibility and honesty in all phases of your activities.
- Comply with all local, state and federal laws and Pet Partners policies that govern AAI.
Standards of Professional Conduct
The following types of unsatisfactory conduct are serious enough that violations might result in termination from the Pet Partners Therapy Animal Program:
- Breach of client confidentiality.
- Abuse of any client or animal, or conduct that is detrimental to the Therapy Animal Program or Pet Partners.
- Theft or removal from the premises, without proper authorization, of any property that belongs to a facility, a client, staff or another team.
- Unauthorized use or possession of intoxicants, narcotics or other drugs while volunteering as a handler.
- Being unfit to volunteer because of the influence of alcohol or drugs.
- Harassment of any type.
- Using the Pet Partners vest to gain public access or otherwise misrepresenting your animal as an assistance animal.
Pet Partners Approved Equipment
The type of equipment that your animal wears during the evaluation is the same type that it must wear when visiting. Animals evaluating for the first time with Pet Partners should wear only their collar or harness and a leash. Vests and bandanas are not permitted.
When choosing your animal’s equipment, select an item that is easily sanitized, allows sufficient space for petting the animal’s body, and allows no means by which the animal or the client may be harmed.
The following is the list of acceptable equipment for the Therapy Animal Program:
- Harnesses: front clip, back clip, step in, vest or slip harness. A harness may have multiple connection points, but only one connection point is acceptable to be used for the evaluation or while visiting. The harness should fit the animal properly and the animal should feel comfortable wearing it.
- Buckle, snap or quick-release collars in leather, fabric or other breathable synthetic materials.
- Limited-slip collars (such as Martingales), provided that they don’t include metal links
- Halters/head collars.
- Leashes or leads, no more than 6 feet in length, made of leather, fabric or synthetic material, with only one connection point.
- Metal hardware, such as buckles, slip rings and D-rings are acceptable as part of any of the above equipment.
The following are examples of equipment that’s considered inappropriate for both evaluations and visits:
- Special training collars, such as prong, electric or spray collars.
- Metal collars and harnesses, including Martingales that have metal links.
- Full-slip collars of any type.
- Leashes that have any amount of metal chain.
- Retractable leashes.
- Leashes that are longer than 6 feet.
- Hands-free leashes, such as those secured around the handler’s waist or shoulder.
- Pouches, purses or bags designed to carry an animal.
- Novelty items: please refer to our Costumes FAQ in the Resource Library
Service Animal Equipment without or without the service animal designation:
Anyone wishing to use a specially designed harness for service animals must request and receive an accommodation from Pet Partners for the use of the equipment while on a therapy animal visit. It will be up to the Team evaluator to determine if the equipment is in fact acceptable to Pet Partners standards.
Strollers, Carts and Wagons:
To use a stroller or a cart you do need to request an accommodation for the use of the equipment. The Team evaluator will be responsible for approving the stroller chosen at the time of the evaluation. All strollers and carts should be clean and safe for both the client and the animal. Pet Partners does not currently allow the use of wagons or any other device that is pulled versus being pushed.
Brushes are useful tools to have while you’re visiting, because they offer a way for people to interact with your animal. The brush that you bring to the evaluation doesn’t need to be the same one that you use to routinely groom your animal.
The brush that you use as your “visiting brush” should minimize the possibility of unintentional injury to both your animal and the clients. Soft bristles and plastic handles are best. Wire bristle brushes and combs with metallic teeth aren’t considered acceptable.
For specific inquiries about appropriate equipment, contact Pet Partners.
Call us at 509-838-0596 or fill out our online contact form.