The idea of therapy dogs was started in 1976 by a registered nurse named Elaine Smith. While at work, she noticed that when a chaplain and his Golden Retriever visited the hospital, patients responded wonderfully.
Seeing that, she started a small program to have volunteers and their dogs spread cheer. It began with just 5 handlers and 6 dogs. Her efforts grew into Therapy Dogs International, which now has over 24,000 human and dog teams.
The AKC recognizes 150+ therapy dog certification organizations; when a dog receives certification through one of those programs, he earns his AKC Therapy Dog title.
All therapy work is on a volunteer basis, to bring comfort and affection to others. The most common settings for this are hospitals, nursing homes, hospices, and areas that are recovering from natural disasters. Therapy dogs may also go to schools to visit children.
In some states, programs are being developed to bring therapy dogs into new settings. Once such program, that we will hear more about in this article, is bringing therapy dogs into airports to help stressed out passengers.