Can My Goat be Part of a Pet Therapy Program?
Is therapy animal registration necessary?
Reading Time: 5 minutes
Pet therapy programs are currently taking off. People everywhere are realizing the benefits that can come from interaction with animals. These benefits take many forms such as lower levels of anxiety, lower blood pressure, reduced risk of heart attack or stroke, and lower rates of depression. While professional animal-assisted therapy is conducted by a qualified therapist, you can still give and receive many of the same benefits without the training. Therapy animals come in many forms such as dogs, horses, llamas, rabbits, and yes, even goats. Your goats could possibly be used as therapy animals to benefit the lives of other people because you already know how intuitive and mood-uplifting they are. Some easy ways in which goats are being used as therapy animals are in care homes and even through goat yoga.
In order for your goat to become a therapy animal, it must meet a few criteria. The main criteria include it being very calm, even when in surroundings that are unfamiliar. It must be clean; smelly billy goats may not be the best option. It would be best for a goat to not have horns. Many of you have probably experienced your friendly goat giving a little head toss and coming close to accidentally gouging an eye or another soft body part. You do not want any chance of this happening when participating in pet therapy. You may desire your goat to go through some form of therapy animal registration. Be wary when looking for a proper way to register your goat as a therapy animal. There are many false registries that charge you for a certificate that doesn’t actually do anything. In order to understand therapy animal certification, first, you must understand the three types of assistance animals. The first is a service animal which is licensed and specifically trained to perform tasks to aid their handler’s disability. These animals have full access rights to any public places. A service animal is considered a medical device, not a pet. An emotional support animal is prescribed by a psychologist or licensed therapist to provide comfort to their handler. They are not specially trained and their only special rights are to “no-pet” housing and flying with their handler on airplanes. A therapy animal does not require specialized training but does provide comfort to others. They have no public access rights and must be invited anywhere you want to take them. Therapy animals need to be well-trained and well-mannered. In order for a therapy animal to be registered, they must be screened for discipline, the ability to interact well with people of all ages and abilities, and be able to remain calm even in situations that would be likely to upset most animals (hair pulling, being hugged roughly, sudden loud noises, etc.). The National Service Animal Registry is one source when you are looking to register your goat as a therapy animal. While some facilities will want your animal registered, there will also be facilities that don’t care.
Christy Orf utilizes goats on her farm both for her own household as well as visiting care facilities. She houses foster children and has found that her goats greatly help the children, especially as many of them have come from traumatic experiences. She says, “My favorite part of having therapy goats is that they teach us to love again in so many different ways.” She has several different varieties of dairy goats so they can also utilize the milk. When she visits care facilities, she chooses either wethers or does that have a more sweet temperament and love people. She prefers no horns on her goats because even with well-behaved, people-friendly goats, a little nudge can cause significant damage especially with children or the elderly. When Christy takes her goats to visit facilities, she will often recommend bringing animal crackers or a similar treat for people to feed the goats. Doesn’t everybody love giving treats to animals? Just be ready to clean up any mess that the goats leave behind!
Kate Pecina gives us a view of the other side when we want to visit care facilities with our therapy animals. She works as an activities director in her local nursing home, but she also owns goats. She states that if you want to visit, first call and talk to the activities director (like her!) to gain permission, set a date and time, and plan how best to execute the visit. When Kate brings her goats to visit the residents of her facility, she usually just brings babies for multiple reasons. The babies are easier to wash (especially their hooves), they can be carried and held in people’s laps, and they don’t have horns yet. They are also less likely to pee or poop if they are being held the entire time. Remember though, even with babies, vaccinations are a must! Coming from someone working on the inside, she likes that these visits are great for both the residents and the staff. Concerning her coworkers and the goats, she states, “It’s a stressful job, working in a nursing home… it relieves a lot of stress for them as well as the residents.” There are few people in this world who don’t love baby animals!
You have many options before you if you want to utilize your goats to benefit other people. Therapy animals are often used in hospitals, schools, hospice, nursing homes, and rehabilitation centers. These are referred to as “Therapeutic Visitation” animals and are the most common type of therapy animal. Another option we have seen recently comes through activities such as goat yoga. Goat yoga is regular yoga with goats running around and interacting with you. Many places use primarily baby goats that will jump on you, but others have goats of all ages.
As you explore the options of a pet therapy program, be sure that your goats are ready for the level of interaction that will be required for them to be therapy animals. Animal therapy in care homes is one of the most known and easiest to accomplish therapy programs. Having animals visit gives such great benefits and joy to the residents of care homes, hospitals, and other similar places. Often, people living in these situations used to have pets and probably miss having that animal interaction. While registration may not be required, it may help get your goats in more places and give you more credibility. Babies are easier to handle, but goats of all ages can give love and affection to those around them. I highly recommend looking into the possibility of sharing your goat’s love with those around you to help combat loneliness, depression, and anxiety.
Originally published in the July/August 2019 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.