There are only two things that we love more than the law here at Sheppard Law. Eating gumbo (dark roux only, thank you very much) and dogs. While we can't exactly turn eating gumbo into an informative blog post for you all, we can with dogs. Who knew a Covington business lawyer was a dog law afficionado? Well, we are pretty sure everyone who even glimpses at our website knew that.
We have talked extensively about Louisiana assistance dogs before: service dogs, emotional support dogs, and working dogs. In fact we've even been published discussing dog law, the ADA, and facility dogs in lawyer magazines like Louisiana Association for Justice and local magazines like Sophisticated Woman.
Today we are putting a different kind of dog on a dog law pedestal: therapy dogs. Tubbs is the first therapy dog in the 22nd Judicial District Court in St. Tammany Parish. She provides deep pressure therapy and comfort for children and adults in the Child In Need Of Care, Assisted Outpatient Treatment, and Juvenile courts. Together we work with Be Fierce & Kind Canine, a nonprofit, to provide therapy dog work and education in the community.
A therapy dog is a dog who has been trained to provide animal assisted therapy. This could also be considered comfort, or specialized tasks to provide comfort, to a special population or the general public. Special populations include children, elderly, cognitive limitations, physical limitations, veterans, and more. The dog should be able to interact with any one but it's up to the handler to ensure the dog enjoys engaging with the special population. For example, Tubbs loves children and the elderly.
A therapy dog is trained but unlike a service animal, it is not trained to do a task for a particular person. Instead this dog is trained to provide affection to people in general. These dogs provide “comfort” to those in places like hospitals, hospice, nursing homes, schools, disaster relief shelters, or workplaces. Studies have shown the presence of a dog can lower heart rate, blood pressure, and reduce anxiety.
Like the other classification of dogs, therapy dogs are not required to be registered with a national network. However, organizations like hospitals and the like likely have internal policies requesting it to protect themselves from liability. These dogs should have docile temperaments as well and be controlled. Most organizations who provide therapy dog training require the dog to not jump on others or “paw”. Why? Most places these dogs are brought have individuals in a precarious state; if a dog scratches someone in the hospital, then it could lead to infection or blood loss if they are anemic. If the dog jumps on someone recently suffering from abuse or who has PTSD then it can trigger a flashback or more emotional trauma.
No. These dogs are not granted public access simply by being a therapy dog. If a venue allows pets, then the therapy dog can enter the premises. If the therapy dog is working at an organization or venue, then the handler needs explicit permission from the organization and the venue to be there. That's why we highly suggest you get an agreement in writing with the venue you are visiting. First to ensure you have permission to be there and second to also ensure liability concerns are addressed. If your dog is accused of harming someone, who is on the hook? Things most folx don't think about but need to be addressed before you step foot in a building.
The dog must pass certain temperament tests and public behavior tests like the AKC Good Citizen Test. For example, the dog must be able to withstand crowds, loud noises, multiple people petting her, and lots of foot traffic on or around them. You and your dog will be evaluated. There are many national and local organizations you can engage with to train your dog and possibly serve as an umbrella for providing therapy dog work to the community. A local organization is Mississippi Therapy Animals based out of Lena, Mississippi.
There is nothing in a law or statute that says you have to have insurance for your therapy dog and yourself as a handler. However, failure to have liability insurance opens you up to someone being able to seize your personal assets if they sue you and accuse your dog of harming them.
"But Amber, I'm doing this therapy dog work through an organization, and they have insurance."
Make sure your organization knows you are providing that therapy work, when it is, and they give you permission to do it in writing to make sure you are covered. Read your agreement with them and their policy: if you work with your dog longer than two consecutive hours, then their policy will not cover you. If you act negligently or egregiously, then their policy will not cover you. Having your own policy covers you in case their policy does not; or, in the alternative, it gives you additional coverage. While dogs are wonderful and if trained well, behaved, but they are still animals and accidents can happen.
Need help navigating working dog laws in Louisiana? Want a personal or business consultation with Amber & Tubbs? Is there a topic you want to hear more about? Leave a comment on our Facebook page, call or text our assistant Brielle at 985-265-7069, or shoot us an email to schedule a paid consultation. Due to our case load we are unable to provide pro bono services at this time.
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