Animal-assisted therapy is the use of certified therapy animals as part of a therapeutic plan. Pet Partners, once known as the Delta Society, has described animal-assisted therapy as a "significant part of treatment for many people physically, socially, emotionally or cognitively challenged."
Animals, especially dogs, have been assisting humans since the beginning of recorded history. They have helped us work, provided us with companionship, and lifted our spirits. However, it was not until the 20th century that animals were officially recognized for their therapeutic abilities.
n 1976, Elaine Smith founded Therapy Dogs International, the first registry for therapy dogs in the United States. One year later, the Delta Foundation (later named Delta Society and now known as Pet Partners) was formed to research the effects animals have on people’s lives. Today, these groups are just two of many others that help provide therapy animals to people in need of animal-assisted therapy.
American Humane established the Hero Dog Awards in 2011, an annual event recognizing extraordinary Hero Dogs and their trainer partners.
Animal-assisted therapy teams consist of a certified therapy animal and a trained handler. The handler is often the owner or co-owner of the dog. These animal-assisted therapy teams visit hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living centers, children's homes, schools, and other types of facilities to help lift spirits, facilitate recovery, and provide education.