Zoe turned two yesterday, and so we were able to visit the hospital as a pet therapy team for the first time today.
I’m often asked what it takes for a dog to be a pet therapy dog. Requirements vary from program to program, but here’s the minimum for the pet therapy program at Lutheran Medical Center:
The dog has to be friendly to every person it meets.
It absolutely cannot growl, snarl or snap. If it does for any reason, it’s out.
It has to be well behaved — no jumping, lunging, or bark. Basic obedience is nice — sit, stay, settle, down — but not mandatory, as long as the owner has control of the dog at all times.
It can’t lick or give “kisses”. I know. I love them, too, but mouths are germy places, and that’s bad for people who are sick already. More surprising, it’s not dog hair that people are allergic to, it is dog saliva. It’s just that the hair has saliva on it. So, no licking.
It must be able to take a treat gently.
It must pass a fecal screening to make sure it is free of parasites.
And finally, the one Zoe and I have been waiting for, the dog must be two years old.
When Zoe first came to us (A little corgi dropped in and wanted to stay.), she was a little skittish around men and other tall people. Hats and umbrellas freaked her out, too. I can’t blame her for being nervous — she’d had a lot of changes in her short life.
But I could sense even then that she would be a great pet therapy dog if we could get her used to new things. So we started encouraging her to “say hello” to every person she came across. Treats may have been involved.
The end result was visiting the hospital, with all it’s strange sights, sounds and smells, and greeting new people, some of whom who wear floppy gowns — and loving it. I was ready to leave before Zoe was.
Next up — being evaluated by other pet therapy program people to make sure I’m not biased or missing something. I don’t think she has any serious problems, but we’ll see…