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Find information on animal health topics, written for the veterinary professional.

Animal-assisted Interventions: Therapy, Activities, and Education

By Lynette A. Hart, PhD, Professor, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California ; Mariko Yamamoto, PhD, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California, Davis

The field called animal-assisted therapy originated when the public began to take animals into nursing homes and other facilities to share them with residents. Unless medically supervised, these programs are termed “animal-assisted activities,” whereas those directed as part of medical treatment are termed “animal-assisted therapy.” An emerging area is animal-assisted education, in which animals are provided to help improve classroom behavior or learning of children. Procedures to screen animals and provide training for the people involved are offered and have been standardized by Pet Partners (formerly the Delta Society). However, programs that train and certify "therapy animals" (mainly dogs) are not legislatively required as part of a certification process; likewise, there is no conventional educational process for individuals seeking to work in this area. Therapy dogs have no special rights of public access and are not granted special privileges in housing or transportation.

An accreditation process has been developed for instructional programs serving health professionals through the International Association for Animal-Assisted Therapy. The University of Denver offers social work students an emphasis in animal-assisted therapy. Some individuals within human health professions, such as clinical psychology, social work, occupational therapy, physical therapy, and/or nursing, have incorporated animal-assisted activities and therapy with therapy dogs into their professional practice.

A much larger number of people continue to volunteer to bring their animals into facilities, often with some screening process and training organized by local groups. Such groups often benefit from veterinary assistance and leadership in developing appropriate screening methods for selection and preparation of both animals and people participating in these programs.