What is a Therapy Animal?

A therapy animal is one who has the rare temperament to enjoy continual interactions with unfamiliar people, and thus can help to facilitate therapy under the direction of a health care or human services professional. Therapy animals are owned by volunteers, not by the people or organizations they serve.

What kind of animals may become therapy animals?

Besides dogs and cats, there are many other species that make wonderful visiting animals and can form a strong human-animal bond. For example, birds, rabbits, goats, hamsters, domestic rats, llamas, guinea pigs, ducks, horses, cows, miniature pigs, and chickens are some of the species that have been registered as therapy animals. Here are some guidelines to follow to help you determine whether your animal might be a candidate for becoming registered as a therapy animal.

What is Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT)?

The use of animals to facilitate positive changes in a broad spectrum of therapeutic settings is becoming more accepted, appreciated and valued. Under direction of health services and education professionals, animal-assisted interactions can promote physical, emotional, cognitive, and social improvement for people with special needs. AAIs generally fall into three types: animal-assisted activities (AAA), animal-assisted therapy (AAT) and animal-assisted education (AAE).

In animal-assisted therapy (AAT) programs, volunteer teams become formally involved in patient treatment regimens, helping motivate the achievement of a wide variety of goals and objectives. As those who share their lives with companion animals will attest, there are benefits that animals can provide that oftentimes people cannot. Research is now corroborating this conventional wisdom. From the Handbook for Animal-Assisted Activities and Animal-Assisted Therapy, published by the Delta Society in 1992: “AAT is a goal-directed intervention in which an animal that meets specific criteria is an integral part of the treatment process. AAT is directed and/or delivered by a health/human service professional with specialized expertise, and within the scope of practice of his/her profession. AAT is designed to promote the improvement in human physical, social , emotional, and/or cognitive functioning. AAT is provided in a variety of settings and may be group or individual in nature. This process is documented and evaluated.”

What is Animal-Assisted Activity (AAA)?

From the Handbook for Animal-Assisted Activities and Animal-Assisted Therapy, published by the Delta Society in 1992: “AAA provides opportunities for motivational, educational, recreational, and/or therapeutic benefits to enhance quality of life. AAA are delivered in a variety of environments by specially trained professionals, para-professionals, and/or volunteers, in association with animals that meet specific criteria.” Animal-assisted activities are basically “meet-and-greet” activities that involve animals visiting people. The same activity can be repeated with many people, unlike a therapy program that is tailored to a particular person or medical condition.

What is Animal-Assisted Education (AAE)?

Animal-assisted education is more akin to AAT, with formal goals and conducted under the direction of an education professional.

When did Intermountain Therapy Animals begin?

Founded in 1993 as The Good Shepherd Association, ITA changed its name in September of 1997 to more accurately reflect what we do. Our membership and the number of facilities we serve have grown steadily since the beginning, as more and more healthcare professionals recognize the great benefits of providing animal-assisted interactions for their patients.

How is Intermountain Therapy Animals funded?

Contributions from individuals, corporations and foundations are our principal sources of funding. We also receive bequests, in-kind donations and hold frequent fundraising events.

Intermountain Therapy Animals is a 501(c)(3) organization. What does that mean?

The term “501(c)(3) organization” is something you hear a lot in the world of charitable groups. It refers to the Internal Revenue Service’s tax code and the designation it grants to operate as a nonprofit corporation, and accept contributions from the public, without paying taxes. It’s important to know if a group has earned a 501(c)(3) tax status because the IRS will not let you count your contributions as a tax deduction unless they are given to groups which it recognizes as worthy of nonprofit tax status. In giving up the power to tax any corporation, and granting the right of tax deductibility to those who give it gifts, federal and state government taxing authorities are making tremendous concessions and bestowing a great deal of indirect financial assistance on nonprofit organizations. Getting a 501(c)(3) status is difficult, and it should be. It requires extensive evaluation and analysis, and authorities must rule that an organization has a mission that serves a real public need. Further, such a nonprofit corporation does not belong to any individual or group of individuals, but rather, through its mission to meet particular needs in its community, it becomes an entity of PUBLIC TRUST. It requires a governing board to oversee its activities because there is too much opportunity for abuse of a public trust if left in the hands of just a few individuals without a system of checks and balances. A nonprofit board, individually and collectively, assumes many legal accountabilities and may receive no financial benefit for their service. Intermountain Therapy Animals, under its parent name of The Good Shepherd Association, of course has fully-authorized 501(c)(3) tax status with the IRS. As such, our records and financial information are always available to be examined by the public.

What percentage of Intermountain Therapy Animals revenues are budgeted for administrative costs?

Assistance from our many volunteers and in-kind donations help us to minimize administrative expenses, which total an average of 10-14% of funds received each year.


How do I know if my animal is suited for therapy work?

This question is answered here.

How do I get started in AAA/AAT with my animal?

If you live in Utah or Montana, please see our Volunteer section.

Elsewhere, you can check with an AAA/AAT organization in your area. They will be able to answer questions and help you get started. We suggest first looking at ITA’s Affiliate section, to see if we have a group operating near where you live. You might also check with national groups, Pet Partners or the Alliance of Therapy Dogs. Or try contacting your local animal shelter or Humane Society. They often know of other animal-related organizations in your area.

I love what you do, but I don’t have an animal. Is there some way I can volunteer without a pet?

There are many ways that you can get involved and support Intermountain Therapy Animals and its mission. See our Volunteer Without An Animal page.

What does it cost a facility to have an animal-assisted therapy program from ITA?

At this time, ITA offers its AAT programs to any and all facilities with only a small administrative fee (currently $10/month) but no charge for all visiting sessions. One-time events and presentations may have a charge, depending on several factors. Please see our Facility Request Form.

How do I start an AAA/AAT program of my own?

Starting a program of your own takes an incredible amount of dedication and hard work—as well as a small core of committed individuals. If you haven’t done any type of AAA/AAT work before, you would want to start by volunteering with a local AAA/AAT organization that is already established. If you still decide to start a program of your own, another established program would still be a good source of information and assistance. If there isn’t an established program in your area or you don’t know if there is one, you can check our ITA list of Affiliates, or with Pet Partners or Alliance of Therapy Dogs. These organizations will know where their closest AAA/AAT organization to you is located. You might also try contacting your local animal shelter or Humane Society. They often know of other animal-related organizations in your area.

I’m doing a research paper/thesis/dissertation on. Do you have information on this subject?

There is of course a wealth of information all over the internet about animal-assisted interactions. There is also an organization connected to Purdue University that collects research on our field. It is called the Human-Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) and is a great source.

I would like to pursue a career in animal-assisted therapy. What type of degree should I pursue?

At the present time, there doesn’t seem to be much of a career being an animal handler doing AAT. For example, in our organization there are about 300 handler teams, all of them volunteer. We have about 400 members total and 2 full-time and 3 part-time staff members. We have 2 veterinarians and 1 professional animal trainer in our organization, but, again, these people are just volunteering their time. However, there are plenty of career opportunities in the healthcare industry in which you could seek an emphasis in animal-assisted treatments. For example, our AAT teams work side-by-side with physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, and counselors of all kinds. You might try contacting the Delta Society about this. They are involved in a wide range of research into the human/animal relationship. They might have some suggestions about careers in the research areas.

Do you recommend any books/magazines/articles on the subject of AAA/AAT?

There are many excellent books/magazines/articles written on the subject of AAA/AAT. We have an online bookstore of recommended books. Or you can support ITA while you shop at Barnes & Noble.com. They probably have what you’re looking for or they can help you find it. ITA also maintains a list of recommended reading materials. If you contact us, we’ll send you the list by email. The Delta Society also publishes a number of periodicals.

What other sites on the Internet are good sources of information about AAA/AAT?

We maintain a list of Internet Resources. Also, perform a keyword search with your favorite search engine. If you’re looking for other good keywords to use, try one of these: animal-assisted therapy, animal-facilitated therapy, AAA, AAT, AAA/AAT, AAA/T, therapeutic methods, Delta Society

Where can I go to find information about equine-assisted therapy (hippotherapy)?

Therapeutic Riding of Tucson

Special Equestrian Riding Therapy, Inc.

Horse Web

The third link above has a large list of links to other equine-related websites.

Is Intermountain Therapy Animals hiring?

Not at the present time. See our employment page for details.

I didn’t find the answer to my question in this FAQ. Where can I get an answer?

Please submit your questions to Intermountain Therapy Animals staff. E-mail: info@therapyanimals.org