An experienced independent clinical research associate, medical consultant, and data analyst, Mary Pat Higley ensures that projects meet performance goals and follow clinical protocols. Outside of her professional career, Mary Pat Higley volunteers at a local nursing home and has trained her Shetland Sheepdog to be a therapy animal for the residents.
Although pot-bellied pigs, donkeys, rats, and other animals both large and small make good therapy animals, dogs are the most common ones. Trained to provide comfort to people with medical issues or learning difficulties, or who are experiencing any number of stressful situations, therapy animals need to be accustomed to human contact and be able to stay in place for extended periods of time, even with strangers, without misbehaving. Therapy animals can also run into various disturbances and need training to be prepared for them. Disturbances range from being startled by loud noises to seeing another animal in the health care center or another facility.
Due to the variety of situations therapy dogs encounter when they are on duty, there are a number of things that many certification programs test for to ensure that the dog will be capable of processing them and reacting calmly. For instance, Therapy Dogs International tests for the dog’s behavior during the full spectrum of the therapy experience, which may include a simulated check-in procedure, visiting with a patient, or being left alone, to see how they behave. All certification programs require the dog to be in good mental and physical health, which ensures that therapy sessions will be beneficial for both the dog and the people receiving visits.