How To Arrange A Free Therapy Dog Home VisitFact: If you or a family member has a disability, then your family is eligible for home visits from a certified therapy dog and trained handler. Fact: There is no cost for this service, since the dog and the handler are both volunteers. I began inquiring about therapy dogs after both of my children were bitten by strangers’ dogs in separate, unprovoked attacks. In both cases, the dogs’ owners were at fault, we filed police reports and we ended up with two frightened children. Because of the trauma and my older son’s developmental disability, my family was eligible for home visits through Therapy Dogs International (TDI), the world’s largest therapy dog organization.
How do I apply for home visits?I contacted TDI through the website to ask how to apply for home visits. Within 48 hours, I received an email with a home visit request form. The form had to signed by a physician to certify that the person has a medical need for therapy visits, but for privacy reasons the form did not ask for a diagnosis. Getting a physician’s signature was simple for us, because my son’s pediatrician had treated him for the dog bite and knew about his phobia. I mailed in the form on a Thursday, and on Monday morning, I started receiving dozens of phone calls and emails from local volunteers who wanted to work with us. It was difficult to sort through all of the contacts, and I wasn’t able to respond to everyone. I scheduled appointments with an experienced Beagle that had received additional training beyond the therapy dog certification, and a Dutch Shepherd whose handler is a veterinarian. The veterinarian offered to arrange additional visits with a friend who teaches seminars on bite prevention.
What are the goals of a home visit?When scheduling a visit, a trainer will ask, “What are your goals during these visits?” I had a list of several goals with an increasing level of difficulty:
- to be able to look at a dog without panicking
- to be able to sit near a dog
- to touch a dog
- to play fetch with a dog
- to name parts of the dog’s body
- to identify body parts used for communication
- to identify the difference between a relaxed dog and an aggressive dog
- to verbalize fear or injury
- to learn how to prevent aggression and biting