Care, comfort, joy and resilience. The purpose of the HSBC Animal Assisted Therapy Program is to build a humane community while providing unconditional love, embracing the human-animal bond and establishing healing connections.
The Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) program uses volunteers and their companion animals to provide comfort to children and adults with special needs or those experiencing life’s stresses. Animals provide people with unconditional love and non-judgmental acceptance and companionship. They serve as catalysts for social interaction and as bridges to interpersonal communication and attachment. We utilize the human-animal bond to help improve health and quality of life for others. It’s no wonder people love their pets so much!
When our program was first established, it served the elderly residents of nursing homes in Broward County. Today, our program is well known in Broward, Dade and Palm Beach counties and we have expanded to help the abused, neglected, physically and mentally ill people of all ages and genders. Our program includes teams that visit over 100 facilities such as senior retirement homes, hospitals, hospice, mental health facilities, children’s facilities, foster homes and group homes along with Broward County Public Schools, Broward County Public Libraries, Broward County Private Schools and Private Libraries.
The use of animal therapy to assist people with special needs is not a new concept. There is increasing evidence and statistics that show that the emotional and psychological benefits of pet companionship have physiological counterparts as well. Pets improve not only the intangible “quality of life” but also improve human health.
There have been many studies documenting that petting and caring for animals, particularly those with whom a bonded relationship has been established, can reduce blood pressure, slow heart rate, and improve survival rates from heart disease. The presence of an animal also triggers the brain’s neurotransmitters to release our “happy hormones” (oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins) and reduce levels of our stress hormones (cortisol and adrenaline). This release of our happy hormones positively effects our mood, social interactions, and feelings of pain.
Animal Assisted Therapy is being used in a wide variety of settings to help people with acute and chronic illnesses. We visit various floors to bring the joy of our pets to those who are ill or recovering in the hospital. The AAT teams visit the patients’ rooms and help to reduce the stress and anxiety of the children. Many times when the children need to have blood drawn, the dogs are right there beside them so they can pet the dog and have a distraction while their blood is being taken. The interactions between the dogs and the patients are remarkable.
Janice Zack, Certified Child Life Specialist says, “We see this time and time again with the patients. Pets reduce stress, lift spirits, and promote healing in a comforting way.” Our volunteers and companion animals visit their assigned senior facility and give those residents and patients an opportunity to pet the animal, socialize with one another and tell loving stories about their beloved animal friends. AAT visits can be as basic as “meet and greet” or as structured as working on specific goals with individuals under the supervision of a trained staff member.
The type of visit depends on the need of the facility. Additionally, our AAT teams and their therapy animals educate the children in our community on pet safety and how to prevent a dog bite, how to properly care for a pet, why it’s so important to spay and neuter your pet amongst other topics.
It’s critically important to ensure that each child and adult we meet with our therapy animals learn how to be safe around animals and then help us to spread the word to others on pet safety. Each therapy team is carefully evaluated prior to certification and receives specialized training prior to placement in the program. The Animal Assisted Therapy Program (AAT) is a rewarding experience for you and your companion animal.
Through this program, our AAT teams visit various facilities with their pets. Below are some of the types of facilities we visit:
- Homes (short & long term care)
- Assisted Living Facilities
- Rehabilitation Centers
- Adult Day Care Centers
- Retirement Homes
- Skilled Nursing Facilities / Homes
- Alzheimer’s & Dementia Facilities
- Residential Senior Groups
- Memory Support Centers
- Mental Health Facilities
- Children’s Long Term Care Facilities Pediatric In-patient & Intensive Care Units
- Eating Disorder Clinics
- Fire and Police Stations
- Developmental Pre-schools (children with multiple and severe disabilities)
- Libraries, Private and Public Schools
- Animals must be one year or older to participate
- Animals must be spayed or neutered
- Animals must be well-behaved and have mastered their basic obedience cues, including but is not limited to sit, down, stay, come, leave it, heel, and loose leash walking.
- Animals must be in good health and have up to date rabies and vaccinations. Proof of current health certificate from your veterinarian is required prior to evaulation.
- Animals must be 100% potty trained
- Animals must be non-aggressive in all situations towards humans and other animals
- Animals must be interested in meeting new people
- Animals should have no history of aggression, including lunging, biting, growling, or seriously injuring either a person, child or another animal
- Animal should be trained utilizing Positive Reinforcement and Fear Free methods
- As of January 1, 2024, dogs are required to have passed the American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen Test (CGC). A certified dog trainer must administer this. Or all CGC areas will be tested and must be passed before a Therapy Evaluation can begin.
- Handlers must be 18 years or older
- Handlers must have owned their animal for a minimum of 6 months
- Handlers must be able to read their animal’s particular stress signals
- Handlers must be able to anticipate their animal’s responses, behavior and body language
- Handlers must advocate for the safety and well-being of their animal at all times
- Handlers must be able to communicate with their animal in a positive way , that does not include any kind of negative punishment
- Handlers may not use choke chains, prong collars, shock collars or any type of negative punishment equipment when working with their animal
- Handlers must represent themselves in a professional manner at all times while representing the Humane Society of Broward County
There are lots of animals that make wonderful therapy animals and can form a strong human-animal bond. Currently, we accept the following animals in our AAT Program:
- Guinea Pigs
- Pot-bellied Pig
- Llamas & Alpacas
- First, you must attend a HSBC Volunteer Orientation. You can sign up for an upcoming orientation on our Volunteer Services page. This orientation will teach you all about the shelter, what we do, and you will take a tour of the facility. (You can register for an AAT orientation after signing up for the general volunteer orientation.)
- Then you must attend our Animal Assisted Therapy Program Orientation (without your animal). This orientation will teach you all about our Animal Assisted Therapy Program and what skill requirements both you and your animal must possess in order to be considered for our program. AAT Orientations are being held virtually and last about 30-40 minutes.*
- If further training is not required, you will be scheduled for your evaluation. The meeting, inclusive of the evaluation will take approximately 1 hour. Evaluations are conducted at the Humane Society of Broward County.
- If you have multiple pets the requirement is one pet per handler. If you have multiple pets and more than one handler, each pet and handler may be evaluated separately for the program.
- Currently, our Program fee for this program is $150.00 per team. The Program fee covers the cost for the program materials, AAT Volunteer shirt, AAT Vest, evaluation, and a multi-state criminal background check. You will be required to complete an authorization form allowing the HSBC to perform a multi-state criminal background check and pass prior to acceptance in the program. The program fees are non-refundable.
- Every two years volunteers must submit to a multi-state criminal background check and the team will be re-evaluated. The cost of the background check will be at the volunteer’s expense.
Become a Volunteer
Join the largest pet therapy program in South Florida and become a volunteer.
AAT Videos & Photos
Take a look at our Animal Assisted therapy safety videos and photos from our Youtube channel.
Check out the Animal Assisted Therapy brochure for more information on program criteria.
Register Your Facility
Volunteers and their therapy animals offer in-person and virtual teletherapy appointments.
Register Your Event
Host an event that includes therapy pets! Reduce stress and increase quality of life with some unconditional love from our therapy animals!
Wags & Tales
HSBC is uniquely positioned to offer AAT dogs as non-critical listeners as an alternative to class reading groups.
AAT In News
View the video interviews and special acknowledgements for AAT in the news.
AAT Volunteer Teams
Meet the HSBC talented and professional Animal Assisted Therapy teams.
Crisis Dog Teams
Support Paws dogs are trained to participate in traumatic situations. Find out more.
In addition or instead of therapy work, some dogs are perfect for Education! Education Dogs work in the community to teach children about pet safety, help children work on reading in Wags & Tales, and so much more.
If you are interested in joining our AAT program? First step is to attend an orientation. Please fill out the following form if you are interested in attending an AAT orientation. AAT Orientation Form
If AAT is not a good fit for you and your dog, but you would love to share your well behaved pup with the community, there’s another opportunity that might be just for you! You could become an Education Volunteer and get your pet certified as an Education Dog. Click here to learn more.
Questions? Contact the Humane Society directly at 954.266.6875 or email us at [email protected].