COVID-19 Concerns for Handlers and Facilities

Therapy Animal Team Visits and COVID-19 Concerns

We are in very trying times at the moment and we hope you are holding up well. Unfortunately, at the very time vulnerable populations could benefit most from the love of a therapy animal, those powerful visits simply aren’t possible right now. When we can return to visiting, there will be countless people, from exhausted healthcare workers to students finally returning to a classroom, who will benefit from the healing touch of a therapy animal. When that time comes, we’ll be ready.

At Pet Partners, we’re staying focused on these vital activities:

  • Sharing therapy animals virtually, especially for people who don’t have a loving pet of their own.
  • Being prepared to support what will be a backlog of renewal and new team registrations.
  • Using this time to accelerate the services we provide for professionals practicing AAI.
  • Staying financially viable to support our mission.

We recently launched a global campaign encouraging homebound students to pledge to read aloud to their pets, called We Are All Ears. Learn more about this new initiative and how you and your child can participate. We are also supporting virtual visits, both at the community level and through a dedicated Facebook group. Learn more about virtual visits with Pet Partners by joining this group. Both of these resources are part of our newly launched Animal-Related Engagement initiative, which supports creative ways of interacting with animals when having a therapy animal present is not possible.

Thank you for your continued support. Like you, we can’t wait to get back to the business of sharing the power of the human-animal bond. In the meantime, please stay safe. Read the CDC’s recently released guidance for handlers of therapy animals.

COVID-19 Safety Considerations for Facilities

When you welcome Pet Partners therapy animal teams to your facility, you are welcoming teams that meet the highest standards for client safety. While it is the facility’s decision when to resume therapy animal visits based on the population they serve, the Pet Partners infection prevention guidelines are designed to minimize the risk of spreading all unwanted germs, including COVID-19. In the event a facility and Pet Partners have differing policies on the same topic, the more conservative of the two shall apply.

Summary of Safety Protocols for Every Pet Partners Therapy Animal Visit:

  • Hand hygiene. Before and after every interaction, the handler and anyone wishing to pet the therapy animal must wash hands or apply hand sanitizer.
  • Posted precautions. Teams are not permitted in any rooms with posted airborne, droplet, or contact precautions.
  • Grooming. All animals are bathed within 24 hours of a visit.
  • Barriers. If a therapy animal will be placed on facility furniture, such as a chair or bed, a barrier that is not shared between clients must be used.
  • Animal health. Animals must be in good health to participate in visits. This includes being free of internal and external parasites.
  • Handler health. Handlers must be in good health to visit. If a handler knows they have been exposed to coronavirus or another contagious illness, or a member of their household is currently ill, they must suspend visiting temporarily.
  • Raw diet. Raw meat diets and treats carry additional risk of zoonotic contamination. Since therapy animals often interact with people whose immune systems are not optimal, raw meat food and treats are not permitted.
  • Rabies. All Pet Partners therapy animals (when appropriate for the species) are required to be vaccinated against rabies, consistent with recommendations by SHEA for animals in healthcare facilities.

Special COVID-19 Considerations:

  • Follow all local recommendations. Different states and jurisdictions may have different guidelines for resuming pre-COVID activities. Handlers and facilities are responsible for understanding and following the guidance of their local government.
  • Masks. The CDC recommends people wear masks in public. Pet Partners recommends following the CDC’s guidance as well as the preferences of each individual facility. It is not appropriate for therapy animals to wear masks.
  • Prudent social distancing. Social distancing refers to limiting the proximity and contact between two or more people. Therapy animal visits assume some level of contact between clients and the therapy animal team. However, when proximity is not necessary, social distancing is still recommended. During visits, handlers are not to socially distance themselves from their animal, as physical nearness to their animal is a critical component of YAYABA™ (You Are Your Animal’s Best Advocate) and animal welfare.

There are many in our communities who could benefit from the love of a therapy animal during these challenging times. We all have a responsibility to take steps to ensure interactions with therapy animals promote health and safety through rigorous infection prevention. Learn more about our Standards of Practice in Animal-Assisted Interventions.