This week is Be Kind to Animals Week! What does that mean for your practice? If you are one of many mental health or allied health professionals familiar with Animal Assisted Therapy, or AAT, then this week should be a celebration for all the animals that work with you to help your patients get well.
For those of you who may not be familiar, AAT is a growing field in which animals such as horses (equine therapy) and dogs (canine therapy) are involved in the therapeutic process. Their role is to help treat a variety of diagnoses. There are a number of certification programs that are now available for providers wishing to include this modality in their services, as well as those wishing to certify their pets.
How does AAT work? It’s biological. There’s an undeniable therapeutic relationship between humans and animals – according to The Humane Society, it can help children who have experienced abuse or neglect, reassure patients undergoing chemotherapy or other difficult medical treatments, and aid veterans and their families dealing with the effects of wartime military service.
Chemically, just petting an animal increases the levels of dopamine and seratonin in the brain. Humans and dogs, as well as humans and horses, have over 12,000 years of survival history – working together in domestication as “man’s best friend.” These centuries of history together have led to humans and animals being tied together, and what was once a survival mechanism has become an innate stress reliever.
According to Pet Partners/The Delta Society, there are many other positives to owning a pet:
- “Pet owners have lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels than non-owners
- Displaying tanks of brightly colored fish improves eating habits and curtails disruptive behavior in people with Alzheimer’s disease
- Pet owners have better psychological well-being overall, and feel less afraid of being a victim to a crime in their home
- Children exposed to pets during their first year of life have a lower risk of developing asthma and allergies
- Pet ownership may decrease heart attack mortality by 3 percent
- Owning a pet (particularly a dog) helps children adjust better to serious illness or death of a parent, as well as enhances self-esteem, cognitive development and nurturing behavior”
As all animals are unpredictable, it is vital to have adequate insurance coverage in place to provide for defense and claims for damages in the event of injury caused by an animal. It is important to note that at CPH and Associates, our program is not intended to cover animals, groups, or agencies for liability related to AAT. If services are being done on a volunteer basis, Pet Partners (formerly The Delta Society) includes insurance for those volunteering as a therapy animal team registered through their program. If services are being done on a fee for service basis, we recommend contacting a local independent agent for a Commercial General Liability policy that will include injury caused by an animal.