Animal-assisted activities (AAA) provide opportunities for motivation, education, or recreation to enhance quality of life. Animal assisted activities are delivered in a variety of environments by specially trained professionals, paraprofessionals, or volunteers in association with animals that meet specific criteria.
Animal-assisted therapy (AAT) is a goal directed intervention in which an animal meeting specific criteria is an integral part of the treatment process. Animal-assisted therapy is delivered and/or directed by health or human service providers working within the scope of their profession. Animal-assisted therapy is designed to promote improvement in human physical, social, emotional, or cognitive function. Animal-assisted therapy is provided in a variety of settings, and may be group or individual in nature. The process is documented and evaluated.
Resident animals (RA) live in a facility full time, are owned by the facility, and are cared for by staff, volunteers, and residents. Some RA may be formally included in facility activity and therapy schedules after proper screening and training. Others may participate in spontaneous or planned interactions with facility residents and staff.
Human-animal support services (HASS) enhance and encourage responsible and humane interrelationships of people, animals, and nature.
Veterinarians may become active participants in AAA, AAT, and RA programs after being approached by a client, or the director of a health care or human service facility for assistance. Veterinarians may also initiate such programs as cooperative projects between human and animal health care providers and agencies.
Planning—Establish realistic goals and expectations. Anticipation of possible problems and development of solutions prior to their occurrence can avoid conflicts that cause program failure.
Supervision—Staff and administrative supervision of AAA, AAT, and RA programs are required to protect the welfare of human and animal participants. All personnel need to be made aware that the program is in place and that it is considered to play an integral role in patient care. If an animal becomes a permanent resident of a facility, one individual should be assigned primary responsibility for its care and management, including arrangements for weekend and holiday care.
Animal selection—Animals should be selected on the basis of type, breed, size, age, sex, and, particularly, natural behavior appropriate for the intended use. Only animals with known medical and behavioral histories should be used, and medical and behavioral assessments should be performed prior to placing animals in a program. Animals should have been, and should be, trained by use of positive reinforcement. Animals must be chosen with the target population in mind. A boisterous, overactive dog may be friendly, but inappropriate for a nursing home in which many patients are using walkers. A visiting calf or lamb may be more effective with patients who have rural backgrounds than would a caged rodent.
Animal health, human health, and environmental concerns—A wellness program should be instituted for animals participating in AAA, AAT, and RA programs to prevent or minimize human exposure to common zoonotic diseases such as rabies, psittacosis, salmonellosis, toxoplasmosis, campylobacteriosis, and giardiasis. Need for specific screening tests should be cooperatively determined by the program's attending veterinarian(s) and physician(s). Animals should also be appropriately immunized and licensed. With respect to immunization for rabies, the current Compendium of Animal Rabies Prevention and Control (prepared by the National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians and published annually in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association) and/or state guidelines should be followed. If the animal is to reside at a facility, provisions must be made for its feeding, watering, housing, grooming, and exercise. Associated noise and waste disposal problems must also be solved.
Human animal interactions and welfare—During interactive sessions, the welfare of residents, animals, volunteers, staff, and visitors must be considered. Introductions of animals and human participants must be arranged and supervised, because some individuals may not enjoy interacting with animals or may have physical or emotional problems that contraindicate such interactions. Animals should be an integral part of a treatment program and not a reward for appropriate behavior on the part of the human participant. Animals should be monitored closely for clinical signs of stress and should have ample opportunity and space for solitude. Any problems or incidents that occur must be reported to appropriate supervisory staff.
Delta Society. Standards of practice for animal-assisted activities and therapy. Renton, WA: Delta Society; 1999.
Fine A, ed. Handbook on animal-assisted therapy: theoretical foundations and guidelines for practice. San Diego, CA: Academic Press; 2006.
2015 American Veterinary Medical Association