For decades, Canine Companions dogs that aren’t suitable for the highly specialized role of a service dog for a person with disabilities have gone on to other careers, including explosives and narcotic detection, search and rescue, and more. More than one-third of dogs released from training at Canine Companions serve as therapy dogs for their communities. A therapy dog is a pet that helps provide comfort for people in need. Therapy dogs bring a smile to many; from victims of natural or manmade disaster, a child struggling to read with confidence, individuals recovering from illness or injury in a hospital setting, and seniors in an assisted living facility who need a friend.
“As Canine Companions looks to serve our community in better ways and increase its impact, we are proud to announce that the national board of directors has approved the launch of a small therapy dog certification pilot program in 2020,” says Sarah Birman, director of training and client services. “With so many Canine Companions released dogs already performing therapy work, it is a natural progression to provide this program to our volunteer puppy raisers.”
The 2020 pilot is limited to existing therapy dog teams working with a Canine Companions released dog, and a small number of new placements in Northern California, including First Responders Resiliency, Inc. and the Healdsburg Police Department. These will help assess the processes and training protocols for the therapy dog program. If the pilot is deemed a success, Canine Companions will begin implementing a broader-scale certification program with eligible, newly released Canine Companions dogs starting in 2021. Volunteer puppy raisers may opt to participate in the therapy dog program or may adopt eligible released dog as a regular pet.
“Our core mission remains providing highly trained assistance dogs to people with disabilities,” Birman says. “We see this as a way to increase the impact of our dogs without changing that core mission.”
Canine Companions also remains committed to advocacy around the issue of service dog fraud, designing training curricula, equipment and materials to clearly communicate that therapy dogs do not have public access rights. Canine Companions released dogs will be assessed for temperamental and medical suitability for therapy work and must additionally pass the American Kennel Club (AKC) Canine Good Citizen test.
Canine Companions is the first and largest provider of assistance dogs, having paired over 6,300 highly trained assistance dogs with people with disabilities, free of charge. To learn more about Canine Companions’ programs, visit canine.org.