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The original item was published from 1/31/2020 1:51:11 PM to 2/1/2022 12:00:05 AM.

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Summit County Sheriff's Office

Posted on: January 31, 2020

[ARCHIVED] Summit County Animal Control Supervisor JJ Swirka Becomes a Tester/Observer for Alliance Therapy Dog

JJ Swirka and Oakley

Alliance of Therapy Dogs (ATD) is a volunteer organization of dedicated therapy dog handlers and their dogs on a mission of sharing smiles and joy through animal-assisted activities.



Date:  January 31, 2020

Contact: Erin Opsahl

(970) 423-8901



    SUMMIT COUNTY, CO – Alliance of Therapy Dogs (ATD) is a volunteer organization of dedicated therapy dog handlers and their dogs on a mission of sharing smiles and joy through animal-assisted activities. These activities include, but are not limited to visits to hospitals, special needs centers, schools, nursing homes, and airports. 

In the fall of 2019, Animal Control Field Supervisor, JJ Swirka saw a need for an additional tester/observer in Summit County. She passed the in depth screening process by meeting the requirements of completing the ATD’s application, writing a letter of intent, completing a written test with scenario based questions, supplying letters of reference, and successfully passing a phone interview. As a tester/observer for Alliance Therapy dogs Swirka can now evaluate new and prospective members and their dogs to be able to volunteer their time to enrich the lives of others. This ensures the prospective team is appropriate to engage with the public.  

The expressed interest from the community to have their family dog become a part of a therapy dog team sparked the interest for Swirka. As an active member of the Summit County Animal Control and Shelter Humane Education Team, Swirka felt obtaining this certification would strengthen the team of Humane Education dogs that are used to teach elementary students about animal body language and pet safety, as well as benefit other local groups. 

The testing for new human/dog therapy teams involves an initial observation that evaluates how well the handler controls the dog on leash, how the dog handles new environments, how the dog interacts with new people and interacts with other dogs. Once a prospective team passes the initial test, three additional observations are required. Those take place in public environments such as schools, pet stores, adult day care centers, hospitals, etc. Additional requirements include passing a background check, completing an application and the dog having a yearly physical, a current rabies vaccination, and clear fecal test.

ATD looks for well-mannered, well-behaved dogs that enjoy meeting people. ATD does not require formal training, certifications, or tests other than their own. ATD is open to register any breed of dog except wolf or coyote mixes because the rabies vaccination is not proven to be effective with those breeds. The canine requirements are as follows: 

• A dog at least one-year-old;

• A calm and gentle disposition; and 

• A dog that is attentive to its handler.

Registration is very affordable. For $30 a year, plus an initial one-time $10 new member fee and a $20 background check fee. Owners and their dogs are able to join many programs; humane education in schools to teach kids about the needs of animals, body language, and how to appropriately greet animals; READ program  that encourages kids to read to dogs and gain confidence without judgment; visit hospitals and patients; visit adult day care centers; visit retirement homes.   

If you are interested in more information and becoming a part of Alliance of Therapy Dogs, visit or call JJ Swirka at 970-668-4192.


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