San Diego Therapy Dog team Sarah and Cocoa have jumped all paws into volunteering through Love on a Leash.

In this 41st episode of Therapy Dog Talk, I spoke with Sarah about experiences volunteering as a Therapy Dog team in Southern California with her Maltipoo Schnauzer Cocoa, how a visit to her grandparents inspired her to start this journey, and how they practice self-care after visits.

When ESA laws changed and Cocoa could no longer fly on her lap, Sarah looked into how to register her dog as a Therapy Dog. While she thought that this would be a loophole, she quickly learned that being a Therapy Dog does not grant her this access. However, on that trip she witnessed the special way that Cocoa was able to connect with her grandparents and saw in her the potential to be a volunteer Therapy Dog after all.

(PSA: If you’re not familiar with the differences between ESAs, Therapy Dogs, and Service Animals definitely familiarize yourself.)

Sarah talked to her trainer and found out about a six-week prep course for San Diego Therapy Dog prospects. At the end of the course, Sarah decided to certify Cocoa  through Love on a Leash and they have been volunteering together since June 2022. While they both thoroughly enjoy their visits and bringing joy to others, Sarah noted that some of the visits can be emotionally challenging compared to others and that she always makes sure that she and Cocoa can take the time that they need to rest and recover to avoid burnout and continue to be there for others.

If you’re ready to hear about Sarah and Cocoa’s experiences so far, let’s dive in:

In this episode, we discuss …

  • Cocoa’s training journey to Therapy Dog and the prep course that helped teach the basics.
  • Why Sarah chose to certify through Love on a Leash and how it’s been a positive experience.
  • What Sarah finds to be truly rewarding about their pet therapy visits.


Key moments you won’t want to miss:

  • [01:46] Sarah shares how she discovered Therapy Dogs because she thought it would be a solution to Cocoa flying with her after ESA laws changed. In her research, she learned that this wasn’t the case; however, her research combined with a visit to her grandparents inspired her to pursue becoming a Therapy Dog team after all.
  • [03:08] How Cocoa’s calm behavior and her love of snuggling let Sarah know that she would be great in new environments and with new people.
  • [04:13] The local six-week prep course for San Diego Therapy Dog teams that prepared Sarah and Cocoa for the basics of pet therapy work.
  • [04:35] Sarah shares why they decided to volunteer through Love on a Leash and the positive experience that she’s had through that community.
  • [05:14] What it was like to power through the supervised visits required through Love on a Leash.
  • [05:47] Sarah’s surprise that Cocoa needs to go on a long walk before visits to get her energy out.
  • [06:32] What Sarah loves about showing off her dog and interacting with the people who they visit.
  • [06:49] What it’s like to participate in emotionally challenging visits such as their experience at Camp Widow and how Sarah makes sure that she and Cocoa can rest and recover as a form of self-care.
  • [07:48] I mention caregiver burnout research and how it can apply to emotionally heavy Therapy Dog visits.
  • [08:02] Sarah talks about how helpful it is to debrief with the other teams in their group.
  • [08:36] The visible difference in Cocoa’s energy from the beginning of a visit to the end.
  • [08:58] Sarah talks about holding Cocoa towards the end of a visit which leads us to a dicussion of her size.
  • [10:00] Sarah shares how her childhood Schnauzer led her to finding Cocoa, a Maltipoo Schanuzer mix.
  • [11:42] We explore Cocoa’s tricks for therapy work and beyond: high five, paws up, spin, and crawl as well as talk through the AKC trick titles and their requirements.
  • [13:53] What Sarah brings with her on a visit and why she doesn’t bring as many things with them as she used to.
  • [14:33] Sarah talks about Cocoa’s baseball cards and what she includes on them including their favorite activities.
  • [15:17] I bring up a reel that Sarah shared about Cocoa and her grandma and how their interactions inspired her to volunteer as a San Diego Therapy Dog team.
  • [16:20] Sarah’s advice to soialize your dog and look into what it takes to become a pet therapy team.
  • [17:02] How being a dog therapy team has helped to grow Sarah and Cocoa’s bond.

I hope you enjoy this episode as much as I do. Give it a listen and let me know which part you found the most helpful!

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Therapy Dog Talk is a podcast where I interview a different team each week via Instagram Live. If you enjoyed this episode please find us over at Apple, Google, or Spotify and give us a follow after you leave a review.

Do you know someone who would make a great guest? Be sure to reach out and let me know.

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