Pet Therapy

    The HSSC Pet Therapy Program connects caring people and their special animals with opportunities to bring comfort, happiness, and humane education to a wide range of adults and children throughout Sarasota County. Teams visit a variety of organizations: schools, senior care campuses, hospitals, special needs facilities, and more.

    Our Pet Therapy Program began in 1992. After short hiatus, it was reinstated in 2015 and has been growing steadily ever since. There are now over 80 certified HSSC Pet Therapy Teams. These dedicated human-animal teams play a vital role in raising community awareness of the many joys of responsible pet ownership. We believe the soothing effects of touching and communicating with animals should be available to everyone faced with health challenges, and we thank you for being willing to help us make that happen. 

    Pet Therapy Program Overview

    • Team members will be considered HSSC volunteers and must be at least 18 years old.
    • We generally certify therapy dogs, but we are beginning to expand into therapy cats. 
    • This program was started to give back to our community and operates exclusively within Sarasota County.
    • Assignments will be determined and scheduled by HSSC. Please note that almost all of our visits take place on weekdays before 5pm, so this program may not be the best fit for people who work full-time during the week.
    • We do accept certified Pet Therapy dogs from other national organizations (e.g., Alliance of Therapy Dogs, Bright & Beautiful Therapy Dogs) but we require all new Pet Therapy candidates to take our Pet Therapy Training Course to learn our specific procedures and policies. 
    • We do not certify service or emotional support dogs. (What’s the difference? Here’s a helpful article.)
    • Our program provides: registration, insurance, visit scheduling/coordination, and support to volunteers and their animals.
    • For dogs that are not quite ready for pet therapy, we recommend our K-9 Obedience Courses

    Get Started

    If you are interested in joining our Pet Therapy Program, you must first register for our Pet Therapy Training Course. 

    Pet Therapy Training Course
    The Pet Therapy Training Course will prepare you and your dog to be an HSSC Pet Therapy Team. The course covers the essential skills for therapy animals and handlers (attention, leash walking, ignoring distractions, reactivity, etc.). In addition, the course provides an overview of the roles and expectations of HSSC Pet Therapy Volunteers, and an overview of HSSC in general, since Pet Therapy Volunteers are considered ambassadors for HSSC. The final class is the evaluation. Passing the evaluation results in acceptance into the Pet Therapy Program. Those who do not pass the evaluation will be provided options for further training. This course consists of four one-hour classes and will meet once a week unless otherwise noted. For everyone's safety, we only permit one dog per handler. Capacity: 9 Dogs. Fee: $60.

    2024 Pet Therapy Course Dates

    Start Date End Date Time Registration
    May 2, 2024 May 23, 2024 11am-12pm Course in Progress
    July 11, 2024 August 1, 2024 11am-12pm REGISTER NOW
    September 5, 2024 September 26, 2024 11am-12pm REGISTER NOW
    November 7, 2024 December 5, 2024
    (No class November 28)
    11am-12pm REGISTER NOW

    Once you and your dog complete the course and pass the evaluation, you will be charged an additional $50 fee, which covers our cost to issue your Pet Therapy polo, dog bandana, name badge, and liability insurance for one year. Thereafter, you will be charged an annual fee of $40 to maintain your insurance and membership in the program. You will be granted access to our volunteer management system, VolunteerHub, upon paying your fee.

    Schedule a Visit

    Interested in scheduling Pet Therapy visits to your facility or school? Please contact our Director of Community Outreach, Ginny Armington, at 941.955.4131 x114 for more information.

    Here are some of our current Pet Therapy sites:

    Aviva – A Campus of Senior Life
    Bay Pines VA Outpatient Clinic
    Brentwood Elementary School
    Brookdale Senior Living – Sarasota
    Emma Booker Elementary School
    Genesis Healthcare – Springwood Center
    Girls, Inc.
    Gocio Elementary School
    Imagine School at Palmer Ranch
    Inspired Living – Sarasota

    Laurel-Nokomis Elementary
    Longboat Key Fire & Rescue
    Manor Care – Sarasota
    Mental Health Community Center
    More to Life
    New College of Florida
    New Gate Montessori
    North Sarasota County Library
    Out of Door Academy
    Pines of Sarasota

    Ringling College
    Sarasota Memorial Hospital
    Sea of Strengths Academy
    Senior Friendship Center
    State Attorney’s Office – Sarasota
    Suncoast School for Innovative Studies-SSIS
    The Boys & Girls Club of Venice
    University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee
    Venice Elementary School
    Wilkinson Elementary School

    Current Pet Therapy Volunteers

    Can’t Access VolunteerHub?

    If you go 60 days without logging in to VolunteerHub, your account will be suspended due to inactivity. If you still want to be a volunteer, contact Elizabeth Joiner, at 941.955.4131 x113 or [email protected] to have your account reactivated.

    Volunteer Perks

    We are proud to offer our active volunteers a 20% discount on services and flea/tick and heartworm preventives at our Animal Clinic, and a 10% discount on retail purchases at both the Animal Clinic and our Adoptions Retail Center. To claim your discount, please let staff know at the time of scheduling or purchase. New volunteers must have contributed at least 15 hours before they are eligible for discounts. Training time counts towards those 15 hours. You must be a client at the Animal Clinic and have your pet examined by one of our veterinarians in order to purchase flea/tick and heartworm medications.