Animal Angels was started in 2003 as a lone attempt by Mrs.Minal Lonkar-Kavishwar along with other like-minded people who believe in the healing power of pets. Her love for animals and her academic background in mental health gave her an unique outlook of treating patients with animals as the agents for change. For a girl with short stature, Minal was determined and full of faith in the healing power of pets.
Her first research work on animals as therapist aides began on a project initiated by Mrs.Shyamashree Bhosle, Principal of ‘Dharmaveer Anand Dhige Jidd Special School’.
Minal had completed master in clinical psychology when she was contacted by her mentor and friend, Ms. Kshitija Koppal. They had been approached by a school to train a dog for TMC’s Dharmaveer Anand Dhige Jidd Special School’, a school for children with mental retardation and physical disabilities.
The principal of the school Mrs. Shyamashree Bhosle had a vision to implement what no other government school had ever done before. She wanted to train a dog for the mentally challenged children at the school. Kshitija Koppal being a renowned Canine Behavior Counselor and a dog trainer was roped in to select and train a dog for the school. Kshitija picked up a loving little pup called ‘Kutty’ from a family in Bangalore. She was named Kutty as she was the youngest in her litter (Kutty means youngest in Tamil language).
Minal, being a psychologist believed that since the school was for mentally challenged children, the dog could be trained properly to be more than just a companion for these children. She delved into the possibilities of training Kutty as a ‘therapy dog’. Till then this subject was unheard of by most people in India. She researched this subject and found out that she was of the right background to implement this project of ‘Animal Assisted Therapy’. She further learned and trained Kutty to be a ‘Therapy Dog’. Since this kind of work was not done before in India, she decided to document the findings of her work.
Kutty was trained by Minal in the school itself which created a deeper bond between the children and Kutty. She soon began noticing changes that therapy dog ‘Kutty’ brought about in the children. The children were emotional more tolerance, their motor skills and their attention span improved, children who were thought to be speech deficit spoke their first words to Kutty, children would come to school just to be with Kutty and many such inspiring instances were observed during the project. She also observed that these children who were socially aloof began showing signs of socializing as Kutty gave them unconditional acceptance which the society could not.
The success of this project led her to explore more avenues of implementing animal therapy in various areas of mental health and to reach out to the common man with this wonderful therapy.