In 1989 as a response to increasing requests from those in the medical community, Support Dogs, Inc. began a program to provide pet visitation therapy to facilities in the St. Louis Metropolitan area. The TOUCH (Therapy of Unique Canine Helpers) Program certifies volunteers and their own dogs to visit healthcare and other facilities in which the patients or residents can benefit from a visit with a well-trained canine. The TOUCH Program has certified over 1000 volunteer teams and visits over 50,000 patients, residents, their families, and facility staff annually. Click here to download a brochure for the TOUCH Program.
The TOUCH Program is not breed specific. The dogs are accepted based on their temperament and their willingness to be touched and interact with people. Currently, the TOUCH Program has dogs ranging from teacup breeds, to Great Danes, Bull Mastiffs, and all breeds, mixes, and sizes in between.
To qualify for the TOUCH Program, all dogs must complete and pass a temperament evaluation. To be eligible for an evaluation, the following requirements must be met:
Once the evaluation is complete, the handler and dog then complete a 12-week certification course. During this course, the TOUCH Team is taught advanced obedience skills, how to work around various pieces of medical equipment, and how to react to different patient scenarios. The goal of the class is to solidify the relationship between the handler and the dog and make them a safe and effective pet visitation team.
Upon completion and graduation from class, the TOUCH Team receives a ranking, based on their performance in class. This ranking will determine which facilities the TOUCH Team is eligible to visit. Support Dogs has visitation agreements with over 70 sites in the St. Louis Metropolitan area. Each site typically receives scheduled visits twice a month and each visit usually lasts for about an hour.
The total cost of the program is $150, which helps to offset the costs of the harness, identification tags, paperwork and lessons taught in class. Volunteers who complete the class and are certified are allowed to choose which facilities they wish to visit, based on the ranking they receive in class, the location of the facility and the time of the visits. Volunteers may also be eligible to participate in the Paws for Reading Program upon completion of the TOUCH Program.
To complete an application for the TOUCH Program, please download the registration packet and send it to the address listed on the application.
To see an example of the TOUCH dogs in action, click the video below:
For Current TOUCH Handlers and Visitation Coordinators
To download a copy of the six month visitation log, click here
To download a copy of the Visitation Coordinator form, click here