Pet Partner, an international foundation that registers therapy animals, recently made the welcome announcement that it would be launching an animal-assisted crisis response (AACR) training program. The program aims to build on the good work already being done by the organization by equipping Pet Partner teams with the training and credentials they need to deliver emotional support and comfort to those people affected by crisis events in their communities.
What is AACR?
In the world of animal-assisted therapy, there are two basic types: Pet Therapy (AAA/T) and Crisis Response (AACR). Pet Therapy (AAA/T) is delivered by a team of a trained handler and an animal, and centers on delivering socialization, stimulation, companionship, and comfort. The therapy typically takes place in hospitals, schools, and long-term care facilities… or indeed, anywhere where the residents stand to benefit from the opportunity to interact with a friendly companion animal. AAA/T requires some training, but there are no physical demands on either the animal or the handler. Visits are scheduled, routine, and always in a place that both parties are familiar with and comfortable.
Crisis Response (AACR) is a unique form of animal-assisted therapy that involves working in more intense situations (i.e. natural, human-caused, or technological crises) than would be the case in AAA/T. Due to the additional demands, handlers are required to undergo a greater level of training, with a focus on developing skills in the areas of crisis intervention, critical incident stress management, animal behavior and stress management, incident command system training, and first aid (both pet and human) and CPR. The animal half of the team is also obliged to undergo training, with the majority focused on desensitizing them to some of the most common sights, sounds, and smells they’re likely to encounter at a crisis scene. Due to the specialist nature of the therapy, some organizations only allow dogs to train for AACR. Pet Partner’s, on the other hand, will consider all registered Pet Partners species for credentialing.
How to Volunteer
If you and your pet share Pet Partner’s vision, then why not join the thousands of Pet Partners volunteers around the world delivering support, comfort, and happiness to those who most need it? Although you’ll need to have 6 months of experience with the organization prior to applying for the Animal-Assisted Crisis Response Program, their Therapy Animal program is a great way for you and your pet to develop some of the skills and experience you’ll need if you decide to move in that direction at a later stage.
If you don’t have a dog, don’t worry. Although 94% of the animals in the organization’s therapy team are dogs, they welcome any creature, whether it’s a horse, a bird, a pig, a llama, a rabbit, or a rat. The only request is that they’re friendly, well-behaved, and unlikely to leave any unwelcome “gifts” behind after a visit. To become a volunteer, you’ll need to be 18 years of age (your pet, meanwhile, can be any age it pleases). The first step is to complete the registration process, which is designed not only to ensure you and your pet are the right fit for the program, but to properly prepare and train you for the work that will come later. If, after 6 months of volunteering, you want to move into AACR, you’ll need to go through a further training program before you can be deployed.
The Wonder of Service Animals
Pet Partner’s Animal-Assisted Crisis Response Program is a great development, and one that shows, yet again, just how intertwined the human/ animal relationship is. From guide dogs to allergy detection dogs to therapy dogs, companion animals are proving their worth in every sector imaginable. Courtesy of Dogster, here are just a few of the different types of service dog we owe a huge debt of thanks to.
- Guide Dogs – As one of the oldest types of service animals around, guide dogs have been assisting the visually impaired for centuries, with some historians even suggesting they were utilized during Roman times. Although Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, and Lab/Golden hybrids are the most common type of guide dogs, certain other breeds, including poodles, can also be successfully trained.
- Hearing Dogs – Offering essentially the same kind of service as guide dogs, but to the deaf instead of the blind, hearing dogs are trained to alert their owners to sounds such as an alarm, a doorbell, or even a crying baby.
- Mobility Assistance Dogs – Mobility assistance dogs are trained to deliver assistance to mobility-impaired people. The range of assistance can vary according to the particular needs of the owner, but will typically include helping to pick up and “hand over” objects, press buttons, and even pull a wheelchair up a ramp.
- Diabetic Alert Dogs – Diabetic alert dogs are trained to pick up on the scent changes associated with hyperglycemic or hypoglycemic events (which are otherwise undetectable to humans) and alert their owners to any potentially dangerous blood sugar changes.
- Seizure Alert Dogs – Like diabetic alert dogs, seizure alert dogs are trained to predict physiological changes in their owner, although in this case, the changes are used to predict a seizure rather than a hyperglycemic or hypoglycemic event.
- Seizure Response Dogs – If seizure alert dogs are trained to alert their owner to a potential seizure, seizure response dogs are trained to help once the seizure happens. As well as being able to remove the person from an unsafe place, they’re also trained to sound alarms or retrieve medication.
- Psychiatric Service Dogs – Psychiatric service dogs help provide support to sufferers of depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). As well as making them feel safer at home, the dogs can help sufferers feel less overwhelmed in public places and encourage them to participate in outside pursuits.
- Autism Support Dogs – For children with Asperger’s or Autism, Autism support dogs can be a lifeline, helping them form connections, reducing isolation, and providing comfort during times of stress.