ALBANY — Therapy dogs in New York State will have to abide by state-dictated standards, following legislation signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday.
“Therapy dogs provide an incredible service to those in need and should be trained to the highest possible standards,” Cuomo said. “This legislation will establish best practices for New York’s therapy dogs so that they can provide the best possible attention and care to New Yorkers who rely on them every day.”
In the bill’s justification, Senate documents said that last year, a panel was established by the state to “examine issues related to these dogs, especially the need for education, training, identifying what they do, and clarifying the differences from service dogs and emotional support animals.”
That group consisted of individuals from state agencies, representatives of disability rights groups and animal protection advocates.
The group issued a report on their findings, which noted that there are no standards for therapy dog designation, training protocol, evaluation and certification.
“Dogs should be registered with a recognized therapy dog organization that assesses the suitability of the dog to serve as a therapy dog, evaluates the dog-handler team, and determines which environments are appropriate for the dog-handler team to provide animal-assisted interventions,” the report stated.
It also noted that there are currently no national standards for the above-noted criteria, while they do exist for service dogs.
The state will pursue establishing these guidelines, addressing a range of areas affecting the use of service dogs.
Among those recommended from the panel’s report are that each handler/animal team must undergo a practical assessment of skills and aptitude every three years to demonstrate its ability to interact with clients safely and effectively; as well as providing policies that minimize risk of infection.
Additionally, guidelines would also include time restrictions, non-coercive training techniques, annual health screenings for dogs and minimal health standards for handlers.
Those standards would include being free of respiratory illness, nausea, or ill with a contagion; appriopriate vaccination records; and having not had an “unusual stress-causing incident which would prevent them from concentrating on being fully engaged during the visit with their animal.”
“I am confident, with this legislation, we can create a positive experience for everyone including our therapy dogs.,” said bill sponsor Sen. Monica Martinez, D-Long Island. “I strongly believe in the importance of creating and enforcing standards and regulations for the licensing, training and handling of therapy dogs.”
“Therapy dogs play a vital role in helping people and have shown to have a positive emotional effect on those they visit,” Martinez added.
“Therapy dogs positively affect the emotional well-being of people they visit in schools, libraries, hospitals, nursing homes, mental health facilities, and other places,” said Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo. “Guidelines will now be available regarding the definition, training, handling and use of these dogs.”
Cuomo said the new standards will ensure New York’s therapy dogs are as prepared as possible to serve those in need.