Therapy Dogs: Love, Laughter, And A Dark Side
A Companion Animal Care Article from

FROM Sara Streeter,
March 2020

Dogs can bring joy and laughter to seniors and the infirmed. But they can also transmit disease and suffer stress — or worse — from improper handling.

We’ve all seen images of senior citizens beaming as they caress a therapy dog in the day room of their nursing home. But do the images match the reality? The number of organizations that train, evaluate and deliver animal-assisted interventions (AAI) in the U.S. has grown substantially in recent decades. The American Kennel Club (AKC) recognized 180 therapy dog organizations in 2018. This likely understates the actual number, and there is no single entity that accredits therapy dog organizations using a common set of standards. Instead, there are six, each with their own requirements. As a result, the therapy animal industry is more or less self-regulated. Each entity chooses to accredit or not and has its own policies and procedures for screening, evaluating, and training dogs and handlers and providing services.

Little is known about the range of practices that exist across organizations and whether they are enough to ensure the health and welfare of dogs, their handlers, and those they serve. People who interact with therapy dogs are at risk for zoonotic disease (diseases transmitted from animals to humans), bites, scratches, and allergic reactions. Some people are afraid of dogs and even the best trained canine can provoke an extreme fear response. The dogs themselves may become overworked or suffer social stress from interacting with unfamiliar people.

While AAI would seem to be an animal-friendly industry, this study highlights several areas that need improvement. Animal advocates can acquaint themselves with the particulars of AAI entities in their local areas. Then, they can use this study to assess how well the organization protects the welfare of the dogs, handlers, and those they serve and encourage change where they find deficiencies.

Read the entire article at Therapy Dogs: Love, Laughter, And A Dark Side

Sara Streeter spent her career as an accounting and finance professional. Now retired, she loves to hike, bike, paddle a sea kayak and travel. She has a passion for animals and has been a long-time animal advocate in various capacities.

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