For most, getting into the Christmas spirit means shopping for gifts, planning a feast, or heading out to a party. For your New Year’s resolution in 2017, why not try giving back to the community by volunteering your pet as a therapy animal?

There are two kinds of therapy animals here in Singapore—the first are involved in animal-assisted therapy (AAT), which is a method administered by a health professional (like a counsellor or physiotherapist) using the help of a trained therapy animal. The second are involved in animal-assisted activities (AAA), which is a series of casual interactions where volunteers and their pets visit various beneficiaries to cheer them up.

Animal-assisted activities are a great way to socialise your furkid, all while helping society. Contrary to popular belief, cats can be a part of this programme too—it all depends on each individual’s personal preference.

“While both dogs and cats can be petted and groomed during AAA sessions, with dogs, there is the additional opportunity for the beneficiaries to play fetch, do tricks and feed the dog treats,” says Maureen Huang, founder and director of PAWSibility, a centre that provides counselling, social emotional development and therapeutic services for children and youth.

So what does your furkid need to make the cut?

Therapy dogs need to be at least one year of age, obedient, and friendly towards other humans and dogs. They must be open to being touched by strangers, be up to date with their vaccinations, and healthy.

“A good way to start is to train your dog in basic obedience, then condition him to be calm and to enjoy interactions with strangers,” shares Marie Choo, a dog behaviourist and trainer from The Dog Alchemist.

If you're keen on volunteering your pet up to be a therapy dog but not sure if your furkid would make the cut, flip to Paw Prints (pg 20) in our Dec 2016-Jan 2017 issue!