Animal What?

Animal-assisted therapy is a form of therapy where animals become the conduits for healing people. The goals may range from improving quality of life (think of a dog visiting seniors in a nursing home, to bring them joy and stimulation) to specific therapeutic needs (think of a disabled child, riding a horse to stimulate their muscular and nervous systems).

How It Works

As part of animal-assisted therapy, volunteers or professionals take animals to health-care, social-care and educational facilities. If all these environments were more natural and, well, more humane, we probably wouldn’t need animal-assisted therapy, but for now, animals provide that missing link – unconditional love. They can be the ray of light in the gray reality of life in an institution, be it a hospital, nursing home, orphanage, refugee camp or school for disabled kids.

Animal-assisted therapy combines physical, psychological, and social elements into fun and motivating activities. It often works where other therapies proved ineffective and, unlike medication, it has practically no side effects. Animals simply provide something we, as people, cannot and they provide it where we have failed.

Miracles? Dare I Say Yes?

I have heard the word ‘miracle’ spoken way too often in this context, but what I’ve seen and researched certainly feels that way. I’ve had chats with the formerly ‘incurably’ mute and taken walks with the formerly ‘permanently’ bed-ridden. I’ve had nurses tell me they wept when they saw ‘hopeless’ cases regain hope and progressed from there in leaps. It’s not a cure-all, but it’s always a useful supplement to traditional care and, in those special cases, has absolutely unexpected results.

My Work in AAT

I first got involved in this field in 2000 and since worked as an organizer in three organizations (Helping Paws, the Canine Therapy Association and Anitera). This gave me an opportunity to meet and help train hundreds of volunteers and professionals. At some point I realized that, precisely because I’m not a therapist myself, I’m in an ideal position to do research and try to find common threads. I approached this work from a journalistic and methodological point of view and currently serve as an independent consultant.

Eventually I developed a theoretical structure for the methods, aiming to describe and incorporate all aspects of the so-far existing types of animal-assisted therapies. I lecture, write about animal-assisted therapies, run an informational server, and consult university students who write theses on the subject.

I’m currently working on a book that will summarize this system and provide structured educational material. There is still so much to be done and so much to learn, but I see small miracles happen and firmly believe we’ve only seen a glimpse of this method’s true potential.

The independent server (only in Czech) can be found at www.animoterapie.cz