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VIPaws is a program of the Monroe County Humane Association in an effort to share the support and success of the human-animal bond and provide animal related therapies in the community. VIPaws is a specialized group of volunteer handler and animal teams.


What is Animal Assisted Therapy?

Animal assisted therapy consists of trained handler and animal teams volunteering in the community doing casual meet and greet activities. Animal assisted therapy can also include goal-directed and designed interactions to promote improvement in a client's physical, mental, emotional, social, or cognitive functioning. Registered therapy animal teams often visit nursing homes, health care facilities, libraries, schools, camps, community events, and other stressful situations to share the physical and emotional benefits of human-animal interactions. 


A therapy animal is trained with specific commands, skills, and manners to provide comfort and affection to others in a calm soothing way. Commonly the therapy animal is owned by the person handling it and the animal is a personal pet while not volunteering as a therapy animal. Typically handlers of therapy animals are required to complete specialized training and might also work in health care or social services. 


In General, Who Can Participate in Animal Assisted Therapy?

Most companion animals including dogs, cats, rabbits, birds, guinea pigs, miniature horses and horses can be used for animal assisted therapy. All animals and handlers are required to pass an evaluation for registration before participating in activities or to be recognized and registered as a "therapy team".


Who Can Participate in MCHA"s VIPaws Animal Assisted Therapy Program?

Monroe County Humane Association VIPaws program only evaluates companion dogs and cats for registered VIPaws animal assisted therapy teams. All handlers are required to complete VIPaws Handler Training before animal and handler attend VIPaws Team Evaluations. Upon passing VIPaws Team Evaluations handlers and animals must register as a VIPaws team by paying fees and passing a background check. For more information on becoming a registered VIPaws team click here


VIPaws Therapy Dog Prep Class

Are you and your dog interested in becoming a registered VIPaws team? Therapy Dog Prep Classes are optional one-hour drop in dog training sessions at MCHA on select Mondays from 6:00-7:00pm. These sessions will emphasize the expectations of animal assisted therapy teams, practice obedience, social skills and prepare for real-world animal assisted therapy situations. Each session costs $10 cash, check, or must be pre-paid online. Pre-register now by paying online or e-mail the coordinator. Please confirm your spot in Therapy Dog Prep Class no later than 9am on the day of class that you intend to participate. We need a minimum of three participants to host class. If we do not have at least three participants, class will be cancelled. Please watch the MCHA Facebook page for updates.


Currently MCHA does not host Therapy Cat Prep Classes. For more information on becoming a registered team with a cat, e-mail VIPaws Coordinator or read more about how to become a VIPaws therapy team


A therapy animal is not a service animal! 

A therapy dog or cat is not the same as a service animal. Sometimes known as an assistance animal, a service animal is an animal that has been specifically trained to provide assistance or perform tasks that benefit the handler with a physical or mental disability which limits one or more of a person's major life functions including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.


The service animal's training and performed tasks must be directly related to the handler’s disability. The comfort of an animal’s presence, emotional support, companionship and well-being do not constitute as a recognized task of a service animal but is rather known as a companion animal or emotional support animal.


An emotional support animal (ESA) does not have the same privileges such as public access as a service animal but can provide therapeutic support to an owner with a disability that does not limit the person’s major life functions. An emotional support animal may encourage life focus; provide companionship, affection and positive regard. A doctor may determine that a client with a mental illness would benefit from companionship of an emotional support animal and write a note supporting a request to allow the emotional support animal into housing or travel arrangements that are known traditionally do not allow pets. 


ARF! - Animal Reading Friends​

Do you love reading, enjoy working with kids and value community? Volunteer with MCHA a registered VIPaws Team to participate in Animal Reading Friends at your local library! Do you have a young child that enjoys reading to dogs or needs encouragement from a fury friend to read? Registered VIPaws teams are regurally meet in Monroe and Brown County Public Libraries! Check out our calendar and join us on the weekends, free and open to the public!

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How to Become a Team