Michelle A. Culver, LMFT
Animals are a source of calm and comfort for many people. Studies have shown that petting a cat or dog helps lower blood pressure and slow down one’s heartbeat. Whether a pet or trained service animal, individuals may find that they can open up to an animal and release emotions in a way that they cannot with the people in their lives.
One type of service animal is a therapy animal. This is an animal that is trained to be present in therapy sessions, in hospitals, at schools or airports, or in rehabilitation centers. The role of a therapy animal is to provide comfort which is the service they offer. The owner is the handler who trains and leads the animal in these environments. This is different than an emotional support animal who provides services only to their owner for their individual needs. An emotional support animal does not provide these services to others.
What makes a therapy animal different than a regular pet? My therapy dog Louie has a temperament that makes him an ideal candidate for being a therapy dog. He is calm, loves being around people (even strangers), and picks up on people’s emotions and tries to provide comfort. This is not something that can be trained but is a trait a dog (or other animal) either has or does not.
Louie was required to go through testing to ensure that he would not startle at loud noises or sudden movements, would not be distracted by other animals, and is comfortable around people with various physical impairments. He is also trained to stand on his hind legs so that people in a bed or higher sitting position could still reach to pet his head. Louie passed the testing and training with flying colors and earned his certification and therapy dog vest. You may occasionally see Louie around the Treehouse office as he visits with my clients and helps provide comfort during therapy sessions. If you see Louie, stop and say hi!