Application of AAT
AAT in Counseling: Counselors can make the use of a therapy dog while working with patients with various needs. For example, AAT is very effective for Anxiety and Distress: Several studies have identified the stroking of an animal as an effective means of relieving stress and reducing blood pressure. Depression: Pets provide the much needed emotional comfort and companionship to patients with depression. AAT is also very effective to deal with post trauma stress. The comforting touch of a therapy dog can sooth the scars of a trauma.
AAT in Hospitals: A Hospital can be a very stressful place, especially for a child. A visit from a therapy dog to a recovering patient in the post operative section will help him respond better to the medical treatment. Or a visit to a patient before undergoing surgery can help him forget his anxiety. These visits work wonder for patients who are hospitalized for long terms. Recently Animal Angels conducted a ground breaking program in India where Therapy Dog was introduced for the first time in a hospital in India at Ruby Hall Clinic for Cancer patients in Pune. A visit from our therapy dog Kiara at a Christmas party held for the Pediatric patients with Thalassemia, Cancer and heart disease, brought the much-needed fun element to the otherwise dull and painful environment of hospital setting.
Autism and other developmental disabilities: AAT has been effective in helping children with developmental disabilities. It is seen that a dog when used as a therapeutic medium can have a strong impact on the behavior of seriously withdrawn children. In a study conducted by Minal Kavishwar at Prasanna Autism Center Pune, shows that interaction with therapy dog Sophie led to decrease in autistic characteristics like humming, repetitive jumping, roaming, hand posturing etc. It also showed improvement in emotional expression and socially acceptable activities like taking the dog for a walk, joining the therapist in games involving the dog, feeding the dog, playing ball with the dog, hugging the dog etc. However, it is important to note that not the mere presence but the goal-oriented activities directed by the therapist bring out such results.
ADHD: Similarly, AAT is also effectively used for children with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder). The presence of an animal helps theses children in improving attention, concentration and helps in channelizing their energy. The touch of the animals is comforting and helps them to calm down and relax.
Behavioral and Emotional Problems in Children: AAT also helps in dealing with behavior problems in children. It is seen that when children with behavior problems are asked to train a dog, they learn self-control and self-correction.
Learning disabilities: Interaction with therapy dog has been seen to help children with learning disabilities. Animal Angels conducts a novel program called as ‘Tails of Joy’ – an Animal Assisted Reading program which involves the child reading out books to the dog. The presence of an animal proves to be non-threatening and helps the child overcome his fears and obstacle. The dog does not shout at the child when he makes mistakes, does not taunt or laugh at the child and thus is an ideal reading companion. Animal Angels has conducted these programs in renowned libraries like the British Council Library, Crossword Bookstores, Jungle Book library, Hippocampus library.
Geriatric patients: Individuals often experience a decreased quality of life and increased stress due to age related life transition. Visits from animals provide positive benefits for the elderly. It also enhances social interaction, verbalization and provides the much needed companionship to elders.
Physically Disabled person: AAT when clubbed along with physiotherapy can give amazing results for patients with physical disabilities. Conditions like multiple sclerosis, head injury, spinal cord injury, cerebral palsy etc. can benefit by seemingly simple activities like playing with the therapy dog, stroking/grooming the therapy dog. Pre-test post-test results showed improvement in motor skills, increased physical self-efficacy and increased self-confidence can be achieved with goal oriented therapy.
Terminally ill patients: For a patient suffering for terminal illness like Cancer or AIDS, AAT is used to improve the person’s quality of life. The life of these patients and their family members is very stressful and difficult. Animal Angels is working on two projects with terminally ill patients. AAT for Cancer patients is introduced at Ruby Hall Cancer Center, Pune where therapy dog Kiara visits the patients undergoing radiation therapy. We also have a program for orphan children with AIDS at Manavya residential center where our therapy dog visits them and provides them with unconditional acceptance and love.
What are the benefits of AAT versus traditional modalities?
AAT offers numerous benefits beyond those available through traditional therapies. AAT allows a therapists to use one treatment tool – an animal, to target a variety of goals. These include, but are not limited to, improving patients’ range of motion, strength and endurance, balance and mobility and sensation. During the same session, using the animal, cognitive and perceptual deficits can be addressed. The patient also receives psychosocial benefits such as building rapport, increasing self-esteem and motivation and stress reduction. What other modality offers such a variety of benefits in such a delightful package?
Benefits of AAT
RAPPORT: Animals can open a channel of emotionally safe and easier communication between client and therapist. Children are especially likely to project their feelings and experiences onto an animal. Most importantly the presence of an animal makes you forget that you are undergoing any ‘therapy’ or ‘treatment’.
ACCEPTANCE: Animals have a way of accepting without qualification. They don’t care how a person looks or what they say. An animal’s acceptance is non-judgmental and unconditional.
MENTAL STIMULATION: In situations that are depressing or institutional, the presence of the animals serves to brighten the atmosphere, increasing amusement, laughter, and play. These positive distractions help to decrease people’s feelings of isolation or alienation. A visit by a therapy dog to a Children’s Cancer Center will immensely help the children forget about their pain.
PHYSICAL CONTACT AND TOUCH: Stroking animals decreases heart rate and blood pressure, reduces anxiety and stress levels. For some people, touch from another person is not acceptable, but the warm, furry touch of a dog or cat is. For example; cuddling or petting a dog can help a victim of sexual abuse re-establish ‘good touch’. The warm, furry touch of an animal is comforting and therapeutic.
EMPATHY: Studies report that children who live in homes in which a pet is considered a member of the family are more empathetic than children in homes without pets. Children see animals as peers. It is easier to teach children to be empathetic with an animal than with a human. With animals, what you see is what you get. Humans are not as direct. Children can be taught to read an animal’s body language. Understanding what an animal is feeling is easier than determining what a person is feeling because the animal is straightforward and lives in the moment. As children get older, their ability to empathize with animals will carry over into their experiences with people.