Social Work and Animal-Assisted Intervention

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Social Work and Animal-Assisted Intervention
Christy Taylor
University of Central Florida

Introduction
The animal and human bond has existed for more than 12,000 years (Morrison, 2007). In the United States, 62% of the population report having a companion animal (Risley-Cutiss, 2010). Research suggests that companion animals provide adults and children with a feeling of security and unconditional love (Risley-Curtiss, 2010). Families have a close relationship with the animal companion and he or she is considered part of the family. The pet is part of the dynamics of the family system. Pet ownership, or being in the presence of an animal, has shown many health benefits, including mental, social, physiological improvements (The Human-Companion Animal Bond, 2009). Research findings show the importance of incorporating animals in social work research, education, and practice (Risley-Curtiss, 2010). History

The York Retreat in England was the first institution to incorporate pet intervention. The psychiatric institution was founded in 1792 and encouraged clients to interact with rabbits and poultry (Netting, Wilson, & New, 1987). Pet therapy was not recognized in the United States until 1940. As veterans recovered from war, therapists encouraged clients to work with animals on the farm and in the forest (Netting et al., 1987). The intervention began to gain popularity in the 1960’s after Dr. Boris Levinson, a child psychotherapist, discovered the value of using a dog in therapy sessions with an autistic child (Colombo, Buono, Smania, Raviola, & Leo, 2005). Levinson published his findings and recommended research projects to further explore animal assisted therapy. His research suggested the animal receive special training while working in psychotherapeutic work (Netting et al., 1987). The therapist’s discovery caught the attention of researchers and social workers. Further studies were conducted in the 1970’s and 1980’s and many professionals began to implement animal-assisted therapy (ATT) into his or her work. In 1980, the Delta Society was founded by Dr. Michael McCulloch, Dr. Leo Bustad, and Dr. William Katcher (Morrison, 2007). Over the last 30 years, the non-profit organization focused on the human-animal bond and spreading awareness of the positive effects of animal assisted therapy (Morrison, 2007). In 1999, Delta Society printed The Standards of Practice for Animal-Assisted Activities and Therapy to define pet therapy and animal-assisted therapy (Morrison, 2007). Visitation vs. Therapy

Dogs are most commonly used in individual psychotherapy because of their training and sociability skills (Barker, Knisely, McCain, Schubert, & Pandurangi, 2010). The term animal assisted activity (AAA) is defined as providing motivational, educational, and therapeutic benefits to enhance his or her quality of life (Barker et al., 2010). Volunteers bring his or her pets to hospitals, rehabilitation centers, and nursing facilities to reduce stress and loneliness (Lutwack-Bloom, Wijewickrama & Smith, 2005). The visits are random, have no time limit, and have no specific treatment goal. The only requirement for a dog to participate is the pet must pass the good canine citizen test. The test ensures the animal will act mannerly in the home, public places, and around other animals (Ethotest, 2005). Animal assisted therapy (AAT) is defined as improving physical, social, emotional, and cognitive behaviors (Kawamura, Niiyama, & Niiyama, 2009). The visits are scheduled and have specific therapeutic goals. The dog must not only be required to pass the good canine citizen test, but must also learn over fifty commands (Moody, King, O’rourke, 2002). The sessions are monitored by a professional who has been trained to incorporate animals into traditional therapies (Dimitrijevic, 2009). Professionals include registered nurses, occupational therapists, psychologists, and social...
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