Become a Volunteer

Thank you for your interest in becoming a trained animal therapy team! It is a rewarding experience that we have found can bring great joy to both the recipients of our services and the therapy animals and their caregivers. Please read all of the information on this page, as it contains detailed requirements, steps and tips for becoming a Tallahassee Memorial Animal Therapy team.

Prerequisites for Becoming an Animal Therapy Team

animalTherapyREAD2In order to become an animal therapy team, you and your pet must pass nationally recognized basic and therapy skills test. To prepare them for training and the examination, we recommend you expose your pet to different environments and people of all ages and ethnicities—and do it often! A therapy pet should love interacting with all sorts of people and be comfortable in many types of settings. You may also want to take an additional obedience class if it has been a while since your last one—you can never be too prepared!

Please note the following prerequisites and qualifications to begin training with the Tallahassee Memorial Animal Therapy Program:

  • Animal must be 1 year of age. Pocket animals (ex. rabbits, guinea pigs, etc.) must be at least six month old to participate.
  • Your pet must be a domesticated animal species and free from parasites, disease and infection.
  • You must have owned your pet for at least six months prior to the start of your training.
  • Your pet must know basic obedience—you and your animal do not have to perform with precision. You will have an eight-week training course to work on any skill deficits.
  • Your pet must have up-to-date vaccination records and a document signed by a veterinarian certifying your pet is in good health. A copy of the animal's rabies vaccination record is required, unless the pet is a species not required by the state of Florida to have a rabies vaccination. A rabies tag is not acceptable.
  • Pet handlers must be 14 or older (with guardian participation and written consent if under 18).
  • Dogs that have been trained to aggressively protect or that have been encouraged to bite may not volunteer.
  • Animals with disabilities will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Equipment for Training

During screenings, classes and evaluations, your pet is required to wear a harness or collar and leash. Acceptable equipment includes:

  • Premier Gentle Leader Easy-Walk Harness
  • Halti Harness
  • Freedom Harness
  • Sense-ation Harness
  • Sense-ible Harness
  • Body or step-in harnesses (leash clips to a ring on the back of the animal)
  • Buckle, snap, quick-release collars (leather or fabric)
  • Limited slip collars (Martingales), if they do not include metal links
  • Halters/head collars
  • Leashes, no more than six feet in length, that are all-leather or all-fabric
  • Metal hardware, such as buckles, slip rings, and D-rings

Unacceptable equipment includes:

  • Metal collars and harnesses, including martingales with metal links
  • Slip collars of any type, and “no-pull” or “no-jump” harnesses (e.g. Sporn)
  • Special training collars such as "pinch," "spike," electric, or spray collars
  • Metal chain and retractable leashes (e.g., Flexi-leash)

Metal and moving parts are unacceptable because they have potential for pinching a facility resident. Moving/slipping parts and long leashes can catch and tangle in facility equipment, putting both your pet and the resident at risk of injury. If your pet needs an item from the list of unacceptable equipment, then your pet is not ready to become a therapy animal.

Our Food Treats Policy

Treats are NOT allowed during the initial screening or the formal evaluation. However, they are allowed (and encouraged) during actual Tallahassee Memorial Animal Therapy visits in facilities and during our training classes. Many Tallahassee Memorial Animal Therapy handlers utilize small treat bags clipped to a belt.

Steps for Becoming a Registered Team

Submit the Volunteer Application Form

Interested in becoming an Animal Therapy volunteer? Submit the Waiting List Application to get started.

Step One: Pass the initial screening evaluation and reserve your place in a Tallahassee Memorial Animal Training Class.

The initial screening is used to evaluate your animal’s basic obedience skills and friendliness toward strangers, and to determine whether they can benefit from the training class. The evaluation takes approximately 10 minutes, and you will be asked to have your animal perform basic commands (sit, stay, come, etc.), walk beside you on a leash without pulling and be observed in a number of situations.

We will also observe how your animal reacts during a number of “challenges” including an examination (of paws, eyes, ears, body) by a stranger, a hug from a stranger, and proximity to loud noises and crowds. It is acceptable if the animal is startled by noise, but s/he should recover quickly. Unacceptable behaviors will negate your animal’s acceptance into the Tallahassee Memorial Animal Therapy program.

Unacceptable behaviors include, but are not limited at this time to snarling, growling, snapping, pawing, extreme nervousness or shyness, excessive barking, signs of aggression towards other dogs or people, jumping up on people or other dogs.

After successfully passing the initial screening, you will reserve your place in our training class by paying a non-refundable, non-transferable $60 training fee. 

Step Two: Attend the Tallahassee Memorial Animal Therapy training classes.

This class provides you and your animal with the skills to successfully visit in the facilities serviced by our program. It consists of eight weeks of classes that offer an overview of the many programs offered through our Animal Therapy program and five hour-long sessions you will attend with your dog once a week.

In these classes, you and your dog will be confronted with situations that Animal Therapy teams typically encounter during facility visits such as wheelchairs, walkers and crowded hallways. There is also a focus on understanding your animal’s “language” and stress signals so that you can effectively and productively manage your animal’s interactions with patients and others. Instructors use patience, praise, and positive training methods to acclimate the animals to the sights, sounds, and smells of an actual Animal Therapy visit. While in training, you will be required to “shadow” (i.e. observe, without your pet) an actual Tallahassee Memorial Animal Therapy visit. During classes, there will be an opportunity for you and your animal to practice the skills and behaviors you observed on the shadow visit.

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Step Three: Complete Registration Paperwork

During the training class, you will be given a training manual and registration packet. We will assist you in completing the required forms. Completion of the workshop and registration packet is required before we schedule your formal evaluation. 

Step Four: Pass the Tallahassee Memorial Animal Therapy Evaluation

You and your animal will be evaluated in Tallahassee by a Tallahassee Memorial Animal Therapy evaluator. The evaluation takes approximately 25 minutes and consists of Basic Training Skills

If you have any questions about becoming a registered Animal Therapy team, please contact:

Stephanie Perkins, Program Director
Tallahassee Memorial Animal Therapy
Phone: 850-431-5368

Heather Gainey, Program Coordinator
Tallahassee Memorial Animal Therapy
Phone: 850-431-5352