How to Certify a Therapy Dog or Cat

By Susan Paretts

Dogs and cats that have friendly, polite dispositions and demonstrate patience around strangers make wonderful therapy pets. Therapy pets provide comfort and joy to hospital patients, the elderly and young children with learning disabilities, among others. To volunteer your time with your pet, you need to register your dog or cat with a therapy pet organization. Such an organization provides certification for your pet after he passes a set of behavioral tests, ensuring that he has the temperament for the job.

Therapy Dog Certification

Contact a local or national pet therapy organization to obtain its registration paperwork. Among the pet therapy organizations that work with dogs are Pet Partners, Therapy Dogs International, Therapy Dogs Incorporated, Bright and Beautiful Therapy Dogs and Love on a Leash.

Enroll your dog in obedience classes offered by the pet therapy organization. Attend the classes they offer for handlers. Some organizations, such as Pet Partners, even offer classes online.

Certain organizations, such as Therapy Dogs International, don't offer classes at all. Instead, they recommend that your dog learn basic obedience through the Canine Good Citizen program offered by the AKC.

Organizations like the Animal Humane Society offer specialized therapy pet classes to graduates of the Canine Good Citizen program at no cost.

Bring your dog to a veterinarian for a health check and any necessary vaccinations and tests. Most pet therapy organizations require rabies, bortatella and DHLPP vaccinations annually, along with a negative fecal exam. Check with the organization you plan to register with to determine which vaccinations are necessary for your dog. Your dog must also be free of parasites, including fleas.

Have your dog evaluated by a representative of the organization you wish to join or a certified dog trainer the organization approves of. Your dog must be able to follow basic commands such as "sit," "stay," "down," "come" and "leave it" as well as walk calmly on a leash. He must also remain well-behaved and friendly around strangers and other dogs, showing no signs of aggression.

Some organizations, like Therapy Dogs Incorporated, require that you perform a certain number of supervised therapy visits in a hospital or other facility.

Fill out and submit your paperwork to the pet therapy organization. Include your dog's behavioral evaluation and his health certification. Pay your registration fee, which ranged from $20 to $190 as of July 2012. Take and include any pictures of your dog, required for identification purposes.

Wait for your certification approval. Once certified, you can begin visiting local facilities such as hospitals, schools, libraries or elderly care facilities that are approved of by your organization.

Therapy Cat Certification

Contact a therapy pet organization in your area that deals with animals other than dogs. National organizations such as Pet Partners and Love on a Leash certify cats as therapy pets.

Obtain the necessary paperwork and note the requirements to join the organization you choose. Ask any questions you have about the registration process when speaking with a representative of the pet therapy organization.

Bring your cat to the veterinarian for a health exam and her necessary vaccinations. Your cat must be healthy and free of parasites, such as fleas, to be certified as a therapy pet. Many organizations require proof of a yearly rabies, feline leukemia virus and FVRCP vaccination. A yearly test for feline infectious peritonitis is also required by some organizations.

Attend any classes offered by the pet therapy organization. Some organizations, such as Pet Partners, provide classes for cat handlers in person or online.

Organizations like the Animal Humane Society offer therapy pet classes specifically for cats at no cost.

Have your cat evaluated for proper temperament by a pet evaluator approved of by the organization you wish to join. The evaluator will need to fill out a form verifying that your cat has the personality and behavior necessary to become a therapy pet.

Evaluators look for cats that are calm, well-behaved and friendly around strangers. Your cat should enjoy being petted by unfamiliar people and be able to walk on a harness with no issues.

Perform the required pet therapy test visits with a hospital, school or other approved pet therapy location that your organization works with. Some organizations require that cats must complete a certain number of test visits as a gauge of their behavior prior to certification, according to Love on a Leash.

Complete any paperwork required to register with the pet therapy organization. Include your cat's evaluation form and any registration fees. You may also need to include one or more pictures of your cat for identification purposes.

Wait until you receive your certification. Start pet therapy work with your cat.