This program is currently at capacity. Please check back in July.
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 loving connections.
The Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) program uses volunteers and their companion animals to provide social therapy to comfort children and adults with special needs or those experiencing life’s stresses. The benefit of using pets is that animals, in general, and companion animals more commonly, are regarded by many as “man’s best friend.” 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. 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. Animal Assisted Therapy is being used in a wide variety of settings to help people with acute and chronic illnesses. Our AAT teams visit patients in almost every hospital in Broward County. We visit various floors to bring the joy of our pets to those who are ill or recovering in the hospital.
One of our participating hospitals, Coral Springs Medical Center, has several AAT teams that visit their pediatric ward and their pediatric emergency units. 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. Currently, we have over 100 dogs, a few cats and a dwarf horse in our AAT program. Each certified therapy team receives specialized training prior to placement in the program. The volunteer / animal team must take a series of classes, including specialized training classes, in order to be considered for certification in this elite 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
- Developmental Pre-schools (children with multiple and severe disabilities)
- Libraries, Private and Public Schools
- 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 must represent themselves in a professional manner at all times while representing the Humane Society of Broward County
- Handlers must adhere to specific facility COVID Requirements
- Animals must be one year or older to participate
- Animals must be spayed or neutered
- Animals must be current on all required vaccinations and tests
- Animals must be non-aggressive in all situations towards humans and other animals
- Animals must be interested in people and children
- Animals must be well-behaved and know their basic obedience cues, this includes but is not limited to sit, down, stay, come, leave it and heel (walking on a loose leash)
- Animals should have no history of aggression, including lunging, biting, growling, or seriously injuring either a person, child or another animal
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 Pigs
- Please contact the Volunteer Department at 954-266-6814 to register for our Animal Assisted Therapy Program Orientation (without your animal). This class 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.
- If further training is not required, you will be scheduled for your evaluation. The meeting, inclusive of the evaluation will take approximately 1 ½ hours. Evaluations are conducted at various locations in Broward County. Volunteers will need to provide a copy of their animal’s updated veterinarian records showing all vaccinations were administered at the time of the evaluatio
- If you have multiple pets the requirement is one pet per handler. You may have multiple pets evaluated and if they pass you will be required to only bring one pet per visit. You may rotate your pets as necessary. If you have multiple pets and more than one handler, each pet and handler may be evaluated separately for the program.
- Currently, our Certification fee for this program is $100.00 and our two year Membership renewal is $75.00 per team. The Certification fee covers the cost for the materials and equipment you will need to volunteer in this program. The program fees are non-refundable. You will be required to complete an authorization form allowing the HSBC to perform a multi-state criminal background check.
Become a Volunteer
Join the largest pet therapy program in South Florida and become a volunteer.
Register Your Facility
Volunteers and their therapy animals offer in-person and virtual teletherapy appointments.
Register Your Event
Host an event, either at our shelter or off-site! Have fun while supporting the animals at the same time!
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.
Wags & Tales
HSBC is uniquely positioned to offer AAT dogs as non-critical listeners as an alternative to class reading groups.
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.
Crisis Dog Teams
Canines for Community Resilience (CFCR) dogs are trained to participate in traumatic situations. Find out more.