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How to Join and Frequently Asked Questions

How to join Cornell Companions and other frequently asked questions

Question: Do you provide training for dogs?

Answer: We have partnered with a Ithaca Dog Training Club to offer a class teaching those test items found in the Cornell Companions Therapy Dog Assessment twice a year (next class early fall 2024.) There is a cost for the classes through Ithaca Dog Training Club. Contact us for more information on this opportunity. Most of these test items are the skills tested in the AKC Canine Good Citizen (CGC) and the AKC Advanced Canine Good Citizen Community (CGCA) tests.  It is strongly advised that dogs have successfully complete a Beginners I or II level obedience class before considering having your dog take the assessment.   In the meantime sign up for dog training classes that provide socialization, manners, and basic obedience.  The next assessment and handler's training will be in early November 2024 (date TBD).

Question: How do I become a volunteer with Cornell Companions?

Answer: You will need to take the handler training sessions and the handler/pet pass the Cornell Companions Therapy Dog Assessment or the other assessment for small animals, exotic or large animals.  The next Handler's Training is Thursday, May 2 and the Therapy Animal Assessment is Sunday, May 5.   If you are interested in attending the handler training sessions and have your pet assessed, send an email to         

Question: What happens during Cornell Companions Therapy Dog Assessment or other pet assessment?

Answer: For a dog, an AKC CGC evaluator from the Ithaca Dog Training Club will evaluate the skills on the assessment.  These include basic training skills such as walking on a loose leash, sit, down, stay and come on command. Dogs should be able to also walk through a loud crowd, handle a food distraction, get along well with other dogs and humans.  Other animals such as cats, rabbits and small animals should be well socialized, and have a calm people-oriented temperament, as well as get along with other animals.

Question: How much does it cost to join?

Answer: We do not have a membership fee.          

Question: What if my animal doesn’t pass?

Answer: A major advantage of having an AKC CGC trainer and evaluator perform the assessment evaluations is that they will be able to identify if an animal is not suited for this type of work, or needs more training. The evaluator will tell the handler his/her thoughts and if more training is needed, provide suggestions. The handler can have a total of 3 attempts at the screening with any particular animal.

Question: Can I volunteer for Cornell Companions if I do not own a pet?

Answer: We always need help with the handler training, the pet assessments, social media, paperwork, team leaders.  Send an email to

Question: When do I submit my animal health form?

Answer: This is done after you complete the handler training and your pet has successfully passed the assessment.  We will need the animal health completed yearly, this is usually done at the pet's annual exam with their veterinarian.

Animal related questions

Question: How old must a dog be to join Cornell companions?

Answer: Dogs (and cats) need to be at least 1 year old and to have been owned by the current owner for a minimum of 6 months to be eligible for the program.

Question: Does Cornell Companions take small ruminants, like goats into the program?

Answer: Yes. For example, we do have a couple of goats in the program. We would be happy to have you go through the handler training and then be screened with your goat. There are some issues with visiting with animals like goats due to the fact that when nervous/stressed they will defecate and urinate-sometimes multiple times and large volumes! The handler needs to be able to demonstrate that they are aware of this and have a plan in place. Even if the animal wears a diaper, it still means there may be accidents and hence some facilities will not want these species visiting. Ideally the handler should know prior to screening if the facility they have identified is ok with a goat visiting.

Question: My dog eats a raw diet can he be part of Cornell companions?

Answer: No. Dogs that eat a raw diet or get raw treats cannot be a part of Cornell companions.

Question: Does my animal have to have a medical examination? Who pays for it?

Answer: Yes as we are sharing our animals with the public, some of whom may have compromised immune systems it is important that we minimize the risk of transmitting diseases or parasites. Pets need to be examined by a licensed veterinarian and our medical form filled out (it includes the need for a fecal).  The owner has to pay for the medical examination, however in most cases the information obtained from the pet’s yearly examination should be adequate.

Question: Does my pet have to be vaccinated for anything?

Answer: Yes a copy of the current rabies certificate is required for all animals except birds. The facility you visit will probably ask for a copy of the certificate too.

Handler related questions

Question: My twelve year old daughter would like to become part of Cornell companions with her dog; how do we proceed.

Answer: Cornell Companions allows children as young as 13 years to be a part of the program. However if under the age of 18 years they need to be accompanied by a parent/guardian who is a Cornell companions member. The child needs to take the handler training but does not need to participate in the pet screening as they will not be the pet’s handler at visits. Many facilities, including Hospicare and Longview, have their own guidelines and no one from our program under the age of 18 years may visit without accompanied by a parent/guardian.

Question: I am a therapist and want to use my dog in my work. Will becoming part of Cornell Companions allow me to do that?

Answer: No, by becoming a volunteer with Cornell Companions you are only allowed to use the pet that passed the screening with you at visits that are specifically sanctioned by our program.

Question: If I become a Cornell Companions’ volunteer and join the group that visits the hospital, can I visit whenever it is convenient for me to go?

Answer: No, Cornell Companions volunteers may only visit facilities that Cornell Companions visits at the times that have been specifically assigned.

Question: Do the handlers have to fulfill any medical requirements?

Answer: Most facilities require the handler to receive the COVID vaccination and in addition a flu vaccination. Some require a TB test.