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If there is anything we understand at the Humane Society of Southern Arizona, it’s the strength and importance of the human-animal bond. Anyone who has gazed into a dog’s eyes when they were stressed, or sat with a cat when they were sad, knows the effect pets can have in our lives.
Through HSSA’s Pet VIP Therapy and Visitation Program, we share this unconditional love with those who need it most. Our teams bring their trained and certified pets to people of all ages in more than 80 facilities such as convalescent homes, hospitals, mental health centers, hospices, children’s facilities and schools. Pet visitation is a wonderful and vital therapeutic mode of promoting and maintaining wellness in our community.
Our pet visitation volunteers witness the emotional and psychological benefits of this therapy with each visit. A national study shows that contact with an animal lowers blood pressure, decreases cholesterol levels, reduces anxiety, boosts the immune system, decreases aggression and increases socialization and communication.
If you are a facility interested in having one of our Pet Visitation teams visit, please complete the request form or call the Pet VIP Coordinator at gro.z1495536233assh@1495536233pivte1495536233p1495536233 or 321-3704, ext. 153.
You can learn more about the different types of facilities here ».
If you are interested in joining our Pet VIP Therapy and Visitation Program with your pet, get more information here.
You can find the answers you need in our Pet VIP FAQ at the bottom of this page. If you still have questions, please contact the Pet VIP Coordinator at gro.z1495536233assh@1495536233pivte1495536233p1495536233 or 321-3704, ext. 153.
Thanks to a generous yearly $20,000 donation from Mel and Enid Zuckerman, owners of Canyon Ranch, the HSSA Pet VIP program continues to share the love with people throughout southern Arizona.
“Everyone in our family is a dog lover and we all treasure having dogs in our lives,” said Mel Zuckerman, “Nothing can lift the spirits better than the unconditional love and companionship of a pet.”
The partnership is a natural complement to Canyon Ranch’s mission of promoting and maintaining health and wellness. Thank you Canyon Ranch and Mel and Enid Zuckerman for your wonderful support!
The Pet VIP Therapy and Visitation Program is where a handler and their pet are certified to visit people of all ages in and around Southern Arizona; to include places such as hospitals, nursing homes, schools, group homes, children’s facilities etc. We screen test, train, and evaluate qualified pets and their handlers to become certified therapy animal teams. We currently have over 120 active volunteers, visiting over 96 facilities, and reach over 60,000 people each year.
In this program, handlers and therapy animals can practice Animal Assisted Activities (AAA), Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT), Animal Assisted Education (AAE) and Animal Assisted Psychotherapy (AAP). We can help you determine which program is right for you and your dog.
Consider the following questions if you are interested in becoming a therapy animal handler:
A handler can be 15 years of age, but should be accompanied by a parent or guardian. It is recommended that the parent or guardian also become a certified handler. It is important to remember that some facilities may require a volunteer to be 18 years or older in order to visit with their animal.
We are proud to certify dogs, cats, rabbits, birds, equines, minis, donkeys, pot belly pigs, llamas/alpacas, goats and some pocket pets (rats, guinea pigs). The most common animals that we certify are dogs. It is very important that we remember that each animal is unique. We consider how each animal is incorporated into AAA/T, the relationship between the handler and animal, and the animal’s welfare, so that each experience is positive and safe for both.
All animals must be 1 year or older and have lived with owner for at least 6 months or longer with the exception of rabbits, pocket pets and birds.
Due to the popularity of this program and the amount of requests we receive, we require that you commit to either one visit per month or 12 visits per year. However, you are welcome to visit more than what is required as long as you and your pet are not feeling overworked or overwhelmed. Some facilities have certain schedules they would like you to follow and others are more flexible.
Yes. Service dogs are individually trained to perform tasks and do work that mitigate their handler’s disabilities. Working as a team with their disabled partners, service dogs help them attain the safety and independence from which their handler’s disabilities would otherwise limit them. We do not provide service dog training at HSSA.
Therapy dogs provide psychological therapy and emotional comfort to individuals other than their owners. Therapy dogs go with their owners to volunteer in settings such as schools, hospitals, and nursing homes.
If you require assistance by a Service Dog, we are unable to certify your Service Dog as a Therapy Dog (dual purpose). We do not allow Service Dogs to work in our programs while assisting the handler’s individual needs; this can be very confusing for the dog. A certified therapy dog is not a Service Dog; therefore, neither the dog nor handler has the same rights as a service dog team. Therapy Dogs are not recognized by the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA) and do not have public access rights.
A therapy dog is certified for the good of the public at large and not the private use of the individual either with, or without, a disability. We do not certify emotional support animals for an individual’s personal/private use.
The cost to certify your animal is $100. This fee covers training, materials, shirt, ID badge and bandana or vest for your animal. If you’d like to certify another handler or animal it will be an increase of $25 per animal or handler. There is also a one-time $10 aptitude testing fee.
Testing is different for each species, but since dogs are the most commonly evaluated, CLICK HERE to check out the AKC’s Canine Good Citizen® (CGC) Program and get an idea what an evaluation might be like.
Most therapy animal evaluations are similar to, or an extension of, the CGC test designed for dogs. This process is also explained in our certification packet.
To sum it up, we test the animal on their reaction to a group of strangers (our volunteers), a neutral dog, medical equipment (wheel chair, walker, cane) and loud noises. We test canines for their ability to do basic commands reliably. Other smaller animals may be passed around to sit on laps or be held.
We run four sessions a year; each session is considered to be 6-weeks long. It begins with the initial aptitude test, three 2.5 to 3 hour training classes, a final evaluation, and graduation ceremony. Handler and dogs must attend all three training classes, so it is important that you look at all session dates to make sure you can attend each testing date and class.
Call or email our Pet VIP Program Coordinator at gro.z1495536233assh@1495536233pivte1495536233p1495536233 or 321-3704 x153 to determine what session best fits your schedule and to sign up for an aptitude test. You will also receive a certification packet full of information about our program, requirements, testing information, application process and session dates.
After your initial aptitude test, you and your pet will attend three 3 hour classes, one per week, pass the final evaluation to become officially certified, and you are asked to attend a short graduation. Once you are certified you are able to participate as an official therapy animal team
It’s important to remember that not all animals pass, even the most obedient and even tempered animals. If the evaluator invites you back to test again, you may sign up for any upcoming session that fits your schedule. Please remember, if the evaluator advises you to work on a certain behavior or command, please follow through so you may hopefully pass your next evaluation.
There have been cases when the evaluator does not think a handler or pet will be good candidates for therapy animal work; they will always explain why.
An animal with a disability is welcome in the program, providing the veterinarian has determined that the animal is able to participate in the program as long as the animal is comfortable. Special requirements may be necessary during the evaluation process for these animals.
Persons with a disability are welcome into the program and may complete the evaluation process, and will not be required to specify their disability. If the handler requires special accommodations for testing, they must discuss this with the evaluator prior to evaluation day.
Yes. Once you are officially certified, as a volunteer you will be covered under our 1 million dollar liability insurance. If you plan on working with your animal in a setting such as AAT or AAP, it is recommended that you also have your own insurance (such as homeowners or business). This can be discussed further in training.