By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated 7 January 2012)
Many humane and nonprofit organizations have established animal-assisted therapy programs whereby volunteers bring animals into hospitals, mental health centers, nursing homes, and hospices, providing physical and psychological benefits to the residents. Animals may also be used in classrooms, courtrooms, counseling venues, and correctional institutions for educational and therapeutic purposes. The following is a selection of noteworthy pet therapy programs in various countries.
American Humane Association TASK Program
The American Humane Association’s TASK (Therapy Animals Supporting Kids) Program uses therapy animals to help children who have suffered abuse or neglect, or have witnessed harm done to others. Through the program, child welfare workers, legal professionals, and medical examiners who engage in sensitive work with traumatized children incorporate therapy animals to provide comfort and support.
Animal Angels Foundation
The Animal Angels Foundation in Mumbai, India, uses therapy animals to assist children in educational and therapeutic environments. Therapy animals provide many benefits, including:
- Helping to improve communication and social skills among developmentally disabled children
- Providing non-judgmental support for children with learning disabilities
- Helping young people with behavioural and emotional problems to develop a sense of responsibility and greater self-control
- Educating children about animals and helping to instill kindness, patience, and discipline
The Animal Angels Foundation also has a team of volunteers that bring their pets to nursing homes, orphanages, and other facilities where therapy animals mitigate the devastating effects of illness, loneliness, and loss.
The Animals Asia Foundation, a registered, Hong Kong-based charity, introduced the Dr. Dog program to China, Hong Kong, India, Japan, the Philippines, and Taiwan. Through the program, more than 300 dogs are brought to hospitals, schools, nursing homes, and other places where they can provide psychological and physical benefits. Dogs accepted into the program are more than two years old, healthy, vaccinated, and spayed or neutered. Only calm, friendly, obedient dogs qualify.
Pets as Therapy
Pets as Therapy (PAT), a UK charity, facilitates visits to day centers, hospitals, hospices, residential care homes, special needs schools, and other establishments by teams of therapy animals and registered volunteers. There are approximately 4,500 dogs and 108 cats participating in the program, which helps 130,000 people every week throughout the UK.
Project POOCH (Positive Opportunities, Obvious Change with Hounds), an American program founded by Joan Dalton in 1993, pairs young offenders with shelter dogs, many of which have been passed over for adoption due to behavioural problems and are at risk for euthanization. The youths groom and train the dogs, using behaviour modification and positive reinforcement techniques. In the process, they learn to control their own behaviour as well. Once the young offenders have helped the dogs to overcome their behavioural problems, the project finds permanent homes for them.
Participating youth acquire educational credits, good work habits, and occupational skills, as well as significant psychological and behavioural improvements. Noted benefits include:
- Leadership skills
- Enhanced social interaction
- Greater respect for authority
- Improved self-confidence
- Increased empathy and honesty
- Pride in their accomplishments
Remarkably, the program has achieved a zero recidivism rate among participants.
The Delta Society
The Delta Society, based in the United States, runs a Pet Partners Program to screen and train human volunteers and their pets. Pet therapy teams then make visits to schools, nursing homes, hospitals, rehabilitation centers, and other facilities where animal-assisted therapy will be beneficial.
The Delta Society also provides information and resources for individuals with disabilities seeking service animals, as well as a library of resources for those who wish to obtain more information on the health benefits of interaction with animals.
Therapeutic Paws of Canada
Therapeutic Paws of Canada (TPOC) screens volunteers and their pets for dog and cat visitation programs to seniors’ facilities such as nursing homes, Alzheimer’s day away centers, hospitals, and other establishments. Such visits can speed recovery from surgery and enrich daily lives for residents, particularly those who are all alone because they have outlived friends and family.
TPOC also runs the Paws to Read program, through which volunteers and therapy dogs help boost the self-esteem of children who are having difficulty learning to read. Young children struggling with reading skills may be too embarrassed to read aloud among their peers. Such children gain self-confidence and improve their skills by reading to patient, non-judgmental canines.
American Humane Association PAWS Program
The American Humane Association’s PAWS (Pets and Women’s Shelters) Program works to ensure that women and children fleeing domestic violence are able to bring their pets with them. The link between animal abuse and violence toward people is well established, and abusers often threaten or harm family pets. Many victims of domestic violence are afraid to leave because they fear that their pets will be abused or neglected.
Pet ownership provides the psychological and physical health benefits, which are particularly critical in times of crisis. Yet only four shelters offered on-site pet housing as of February 2008 when PAWS was initiated. A goal of the PAWS program is to ensure that all shelters incorporate means to enable victims of violence to keep their pets with them when escaping domestic abuse.
With the exception of Dr. Dog, described on the Autism India website, information for this article was drawn exclusively from the websites of the organizations and programs listed. For links to these websites, as well as directory listings for additional programs, see the Animal-Assisted Therapy page.