Animal-Assisted Therapy is therapy delivered by our staff speech, occupational, and physical therapists using certified therapy animals to specifically work on the patient’s therapy goals. Most of our Animal-Assisted Therapy dogs are registered through the Delta Society (deltasociety.org) and Denver Pet Partners (denverpetpartners.org).
Our patients love working with the animals, currently all dogs, and it’s been very rewarding, both for the patients and the therapists. Due to the high demand of this program, we are always looking for people who are willing to volunteer with their therapy animal.
Benefits of using animal-assisted therapy dogs include:
- Helping children open up quickly, reducing resistance, and engaging them in the therapy process
- Facilitating healthy attachment relationships
- Enhancing children’s empathy and care-giving
- Building children’s skills and confidence
- Providing children with another experience of unconditional acceptance
- Strengthening children’s sense of emotional/physical safety
- Teaching children appropriate behaviors with both animals and people
- Reducing fears and anxieties
- Helping children learn physiological self-calming
- Increasing children’s motivation for a variety of tasks
Here are some ways that we use animal-assisted therapy in our clinics:
- A therapist designs a session to improve a patient’s ability to sequence events and teaches the client the steps of brushing a dog. Motivated by the opportunity to brush the dog herself, the patient remembers the steps and follows the sequence.
- A speech-language pathologist designs a session to improve a patient’s vocabulary by spelling words with velcro letters on a felt vest worn by the animal-assisted therapy dog.
- A physical therapist works on a patient’s gait by having him walk the dog on a leash up and down the hallway.
“Companion animals should matter to educators, if for no other reason that that they matter so much to children” (Jalongo, 2004). This also applies to pediatric therapists who work with children and we’re excited to have Emma as part of our team. Animal-Assisted Therapy certainly isn’t for every child, but for those patients that are a good fit this is a tremendous tool for our clinic.