Active or passive interactions with animals can be of great psychosocial and physical benefit for populations with special needs. Veterinarians who wish to be involved in human-animal interaction activities and programs must prepare themselves to play a vital role. These guidelines are designed for veterinarians just entering this exciting field, as well as those who may have experience enabling these services in their communities. Participating veterinarians will be presented with challenges and questions requiring investigation, and often further education, before appropriate decisions can be made. Some of the most common concerns facing veterinarians involved in animal-assisted activity (AAA), animal-assisted therapy (AAT), and resident animal (RA) programs are zoonotic disease risks and behavioral problems. These guidelines are not intended to address these complex issues in detail. Instead, they were developed to provide veterinarians with a platform on which to build a knowledge base, to help ensure that the animals involved are protected, and to maximize the therapeutic applications of the human-animal bond. Veterinarians should use the concepts presented here as a starting point and build on them by consulting other authoritative resources.
Animal-assisted therapy (AAT)a–Animal-assisted therapy is a goal-directed intervention in which an animal that meets specific criteria is an integral part of the treatment process. These programs are usually directed and delivered by human health or human services professionals with specialized expertise and within the scope of practice of their profession. Animal-assisted therapy is designed to improve human physical, social, emotional, and cognitive (e.g., thinking and intellectual skills) function and animals may be formally included in activities such as physical, occupational, or speech therapy. Therapy programs are provided in a variety of settings and may involve individuals or groups. In AAT, specified goals and objectives are determined for each patient and their progress is evaluated and documented.
Resident animals (RA)–Resident animals 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.
Responsible person (RP)–At least one person must be responsible for the health, behavior, and welfare of the animal(s) involved in these programs on a daily basis. This individual is critically important to the wellness and welfare of the animal. In some instances, the RP will be an owner or a handler. In the case of RA, the RP may be one or more staff members to whom these responsibilities have been specifically assigned.
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