KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Pet Partners of Kansas City works to bring therapy pets and handlers to hospitals, cancer centers, nursing homes, and schools across the area — and they need more teams to fulfill all the requests.
So, what does it take for a pet-handler team to do the job?
Potential therapy pets and handlers alike have to go through a sort of training camp.
During training, the handlers don't even bring their pets. There are training pets provided, and they're easy to work with because they’re stuffed animals.
Prospective therapy pet handlers train first with stuffed animals.
“We use stuffed animals because we want to focus on the handlers,” Julie Goodman with Pet Partners said. “And we don't have to worry about the safety of the animal. Don't have to take 'em potty!”
The prospective handlers face steep challenges like walking past squeaky toys, and meeting loud, excited strangers.
The therapy pets have to be able to follow basic commands and (perhaps even more importantly) stay calm in any environment.
“I'm extremely surprised,” said Dr. Kaitlynn Abell, who’s completing the training in Kansas City. “Even as a veterinarian, I was never exposed to this level of certification. I never thought it was as much for the handler as it is for the dog.”
Dr. Abell is a veterinarian from Manhattan, Kansas. She's raising a Great Dane puppy and made the trip to Kansas City for training because she's seen the good therapy pets can do.
“My older brother got a [traumatic brain injury], and one of the best parts of his recovery that I saw was when they would bring therapy animals,” Abell said.
Eleven-year-old Opal Morris is was training to be a handler, too.
“I got inspired by my grandma and grandpa, because they've been doing this for a while,” she said. “And I really have a love for dogs.”
She's got an advantage because her grandparents' dog Hugo is her partner, and he's a five-year veteran of the program.
The best part? Opal, Hugo, and everyone involved in the program are doing it all for strangers.
“We can really make a difference,” Goodman said. “The unconditional love of an animal is an amazing thing.”
The training is not just for dogs. There are therapy cats, hamsters, and even rats.
If you have a dog, it has to be one year old to apply. The training is $70, and the evaluation test is $10. The price for the required two-year registration varies depending on the handler, but senior citizens can expect to pay less.
For more information on how to sign up for training, click here.