Best Practices for Introducing Therapy Animals to a Senior Living Setting

Therapy dog on a leash.

Bringing therapy animals into a senior living setting offers many advantages. Therapy animals can break up a resident’s daily routine, provide comfort and take a resident’s mind off of concerns and problems, and even promote calmness, happiness, and emotional well-being.

But to keep visits safe and positive, it’s important to carefully choose the therapy animals that you bring in, and to keep some important guidelines in place for each visit.

Best Practices in Finding the Right Therapy Animals

When finding a therapy animal to visit your facility, it’s important to consider the training and experience that the animal has received.

Amy Brockel, Operations Manager at the Alliance of Therapy Dogs, explains that any dogs that are registered with the program have passed extensive testing. That testing verifies that the dogs have good manners and don’t mind being touched by strangers.

Dogs and their handlers must pass this handling and good manners testing, and then they must complete three visits in a facility, school, or other public setting. Two of those visits are performed in a medically-related facility, and a tester evaluates, assists, and assesses the team’s safety and effectiveness. Looking for an animal and handler who have passed this sort of testing means you’ll be working with an animal that has been prepared for and been exposed to this type of environment.

While training and testing are essential, it’s also important to verify that a therapy animal is up-to-date on appropriate vaccinations and veterinary care. Verify that an animal’s rabies and other veterinarian-recommend vaccinations are all current.

The therapy animal is only one part of the equation. When inviting a handler into your facility, it’s a good idea to make sure that the handler has undergone a background check.

Ask a handler for proof of insurance coverage, which demonstrates that a handler is taking a professional approach to offering animal therapy services. Insurance can also help protect your facility financially if an injury or property damage should occur.

Best Practices in Scheduling a Visit

The details of scheduling an animal therapy visit will partially depend on the handler who you’re working with. Brockel notes that the Alliance accepts requests from facilities and then, if the facility is a good fit for the services, the Alliance sends out those requests to local handlers. There are no fees for the services, and the animal therapy services are completely volunteer-based.

Scheduling can vary. A facility might want to have a therapy animal visit only on occasion, or it might be possible and desirable to establish a schedule of recurring visits.

Keep in mind that COVID-19 precautions may limit some animal visitation for the time being. “With COVID-19 precautions in place, many of our members are not doing visits right now,” says Brockel. “We have not suspended visits, but have asked that all members respect the guidelines in their area and always follow the CDC recommendations on hygiene and safety.”

Therapy animals can provide valuable support and engagement, and those visits may be even more beneficial as residents deal with the stresses and changes of the pandemic. Just as you would perform your due diligence in selecting any service provider for your facility, it’s equally as important to carefully research and choose the right therapy animal and handler pair for your facility.

Topics: Activities , Facility management , Training