Thus it is with the new AKC Therapy Dog (THD) title. For the price of your time and a mere $20, you too can buy a Therapy Dog title from AKC!
Please don't get me wrong. Therapy dogs provide wonderful, valuable help and service to so many people, from shy kids struggling to read aloud to lonely seniors in nursing homes to hospital patients missing their own pets. Therapy work requires training, patience, and an unwavering commitment to helping improve others' lives at the same day and time every single week, rain or shine, month after month after year. It's something that I have always wanted to do, and have always been too short of reliable time slots — but as an AKC CGC evaluator, I'm always especially proud when one of "my" teams expresses a desire to go on to do therapy work. (I did look into becoming a TDI evaluator in order to help make therapy certification more available here in Maine. The organization quite rightly requires evaluators to do therapy work for a year first, even if you are a CGC tester already. This goes to the top of my "when I retire" list.) We need to have more therapy teams in the world, and any method that encourages people to engage in therapy work with their dogs is a Good Thing.
So what is my objection to the new THD title? For one thing, it marks a major departure from the way one normally earns an AKC title -- at AKC events, with AKC sanctioning. Just because I do CPE agility and APDT rally doesn't mean I can go back to AKC, wave those title certificates, and say "Hey, gimme one of those AKC titles. I have the papers to show I've earned one. Oh, and here's $20."
I don't really even object to the fact that the THD is the first non-competitive title that AKC has ever offered. (I'll get to CGC later.) What I do object to is the fact that AKC doesn't really even oversee the earning of the title; that work is left to whichever organization certified the therapy team in the first place. It's not redundant to require that work toward an AKC title be done at an AKC event, even if it means liberalizing the interpretation of the term "event." All AKC is doing for therapy teams is printing certificates and offering up titles for non-AKC activities — for a fee.
The Delta Society also certifies goats, llamas, rabbits, and other animals for pet-assisted therapy. If I give AKC $20, can my goat have a title? (Actually, no — unless I register it as a mixed breed first.)
CGC: So What Am I, Chopped Liver?
Where does this leave the CGC (Canine Good Citizen), the red-headed stepchild of AKC titles? Well, CGC is not exactly an official title — it's a certificate. You're not allowed to include it in your dog's list of titles when entering AKC competition events, nor does the CGC appear on any of your dog's other title certificates. Many — perhaps even most — of the therapy teams out there started with the CGC, but the record of that CGC is buried in another database far, far away from the "cool" AKC activities.
Despite its subterranean profile, you don't get the CGC for nothing. Some people train on their own, and some enroll in CGC classes to learn the 10 exercises (all of which are part of the therapy certification programs as well). Both approaches require investments of time and money, and the exam costs extra for those people not enrolled in the training classes. If you pass, you have to send your evaluation sheet and $10 to AKC for your certificate. How about if we CGC graduates send AKC $20 so we can have titles too?
If AKC's objection to legitimizing the CGC lies with the fact that they only get $10 per dog, then perhaps it could adopt a three-tiered program such as the UK Kennel Club's Good Citizen Dog Training scheme. Dog/owner teams can work toward Bronze, Silver, or Gold levels of training, learning such valuable skills along the way as an emergency stop and "go to your place." This approach ought to be good for at least $30, plus the opportunity to sell the associated swag.
Don't even get me started on the amount of effort, love, time, and training that puppy raisers for programs such as NEADS and Guiding Eyes for the Blind put into their charges before the pups go on to lives as working service dogs. If those people and those puppies haven't earned the right to recognition, could they please get a title of their own for $20? Better still, give them their certificates for free. They're the only group for which success means having to give back the dog at the end.
Okay, we get it. AKC is changing its slogan from "We're the Dogs' Champion" to "We're the Dollars' Champion" — but at least be consistent about it, folks. Put something behind the sale of THD titles, or make titles easy enough for all of us to buy that we can get them at Big Lots, where they hang next to the AKC-branded Made-in-China dog treats and the AKC-branded Post-Its with the adhesive that doesn't stick to anything. That, at least, would be the honest approach.