IMHO here's my experience: My lab had several certifications, including his CGC and CDX and was a "certified" therapy dog. He was certified over in Seattle, and here in Spokane, no hospital or retirement/assisted living place or school ever even had the same requirements--heck, most of them didn't even ask me for his certifications!
What I would say, is--for sure the dog MUST be calm and ROCK SOLID. There are often patients with dementia, and they can suddenly become violent or very upset/emotional. The dog must be able to take it. Same with the kids wards--children are often under a great deal of stress and will act out. My yellow lab once had to endure (for just a brief moment until I removed him quickly) an elderly man suddenly start hitting him on the head and screaming. My wonderful, trustworthy dog, for those brief terrible moments where it seemed like slow motion that I was moving him back, just closed his eyes and remained absolutely calm.
Rocket has gone to a school and taught a bite prevention class 4 times over the last year. He has done wonderfully, but even though he is 17 months, I feel he still needs a bit of maturing and proofing before I consider doing any therapy work with him. The dog needs to be able to handle the stress (yes, it can be stressful for a dog, because often people in a hospital or retirement venue just ooze emotion) and the different sounds, ways people might act when they're disabled, machines they might use, and most importantly the smells and sights. My MIL and my SIL are very disabled, and I was greatly encouraged this Thanksgiving to see how calm and gentle he was around them.
Things to think about. It's also a commitment, because they will come to look forward to you and your visit. If you back out, it's extremely disappointing to people who have very few things as "bright" spots on the horizon.
~Elrond's Rocket of Rivendell, aka The RocketDog
06/15/11 hiker and runner extraordinaire
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