In 1989 as a response to increasing requests from those in the medical community, Support Dogs, Inc. began a program to provide pet visitation services to medical facilities in the St. Louis Metropolitan area. The TOUCH (Therapy of Unique Canine Helpers) Program certifies volunteers and their own dogs to visit 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 nearly 100,000 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 progressive certification courses. The minimum course is 9 weeks. Additional courses may be taken if the volunteer wishes to be certified to visit patients and residents in more critical settings. The goal of the course is to solidify the relationship between the handler and the dog, making them a safe and effective pet visitation team. Volunteers may also qualify to participate in the Paws for Reading Program upon completion of the program-specific course. A course and fee breakdown is included in the registration packet.
Support Dogs has visitation agreements with mulitple 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 type of facility determines the number of course completions that the TOUCH team will need to have acheived in order to visit in that facility.
The progressive classes have individual fees per course based on the length of each course. The fees help to offset the costs of the harness, identification tags, paperwork and instruction.
To complete an application for the TOUCH Program, please download the registration packet and send it to Support Dogs Inc., 11645 Lilburn Park Rd, St. Louis, MO 63146
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