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Animal therapy?

2015

Hello members of the CYC discussion group,

I have a question regarding animal therapy with children and youth.

I am a Child and Youth Care program student and I also love animals, especially dogs. My dream would be to incorporate dogs into my practice to help bond with and support children or youth. I have heard about programs involving horses used to work with autistic children but I’m not sure yet if mental illness is the direction I want to go with my career. I am very interested in counselling at risk youth. My idea is to use my own dog to interact with the youth and create a therapeutic milieu by walking the dog together. I am wonder if anyone has done something or heard something like this?

I look forward to hearing any response,

Jordyn Croft
...

Hello Jordyn,

I have used my own dog in working with children. They loved their times with him, even though some of them were scared of dogs. They soon overcame their fears. The children were calmer and were able to learn some social skills in the process.

There are not many studies that have looked at the benefits of animal therapy, as this is relatively new. Working with a therapy animal has also resulted in behavioral improvement in children. Here is a link to one site about animal therapy: http://psychcentral.com/lib/the-truth-about-animal-assisted-therapy/00010295

Veronica Jubber
...

There are many such programs for all ages from the young to the old. It is a long tradition in education to also bring animals into the classroom.

It teaches empathy, compassion, the ability to care and supports mastery.

A colleague of mine brought into the Aboriginal Learning Centre an "Urban Riding Program".

Animals are used as service creatures.

Dogs and others are brought into homes for the elderly ( my mother was a recipient) to everyone's delight.

When I was supervising a residential program I wanted a dog. Management said no. I wrote a grant to the provincial summer funding program and called it "Instead of a Dog". I received 3 staff.

An animal can be worth its weight in untold benefits...or at least 3 staff.

Rick Kelly

Hi Jordyn,

We have three Newfoundland dogs who work in our residential care and transitional age programs. You can check them out at www.archiethetherapydog.com. Sometimes they are major players in offering comfort or promoting new ways of connecting for young people.

James Freeman


Hey Jordyn,

I am a first year CYC student in N.S., and I have been going forward into the program thinking along the same lines as you. I have always been interested in animal therapy, along with the use of play therapy involving animal assisted activities. I’ve joined multiple groups since last summer and have been doing a lot of research in and around it — Facebook is gold for talking to some other people who are actively working with animals! I’ve been in contact with those who work from horses to mice for youth — it just all depends on the demographic of the kids that they’re working at during the time.

There’s also, if you haven’t glanced through the archived, some of the amazing people around here who have commented on the use of animals in CYC work: http://www.cyc-net.org/threads/animals.html

We see animals everywhere today from the dentist’s office to in the classroom all over the media. I have been following closely Nova Scotia’s own canine therapy program for inmates, the WOOF Program (Working On Our Future) and as well as Nova Institute’s for Women program that also works with inmates working with dogs toward being service dogs and in part it was these programs seven years ago that kind of prompted me to start wondering if there might be something to be said for working specifically with youth (long before I ever discovered that the CYC world was the exact path for me).

I feel some of the concerns would be, so far in my research, is that a lot of people who implement animals into their programs have adequate staff to focus on the well being of the animal as well. It’s another full time job when the animal comes into the facility, and while there’s potential for youth being able to help with the responsibilities and DEFINITELY an opportunity to engage in therapeutic milieu while working with an animal involved, it will become a bit of a balancing act.

I have a background of a few years in animal behaviour from an educational institute + some animal care training specifically for working animals (based on service dogs and also visiting institute therapy dogs). There’s a lot of notice going on in some pieces of the animal world that we can also use animals with this well intent of engaging in therapeutic measures but we forget about the animal, which becomes an ethical dilemma when it comes to animal welfare. An article that has really stuck out to me recently is here: http://www.talkingcanines.com/?p=526

On that reason, I’ve actually started looking at some of the reasoning on why it’s both a benefit and a risk to both the welfare of the youth and the animals involved. For those who actually have the personality for animal wise, I think as long as you’re careful of their threshold there’s a chance they could be very therapeutic for the youth involved to work with an animal who is actually able to meet the needs of being of value to the youth.

In the end if also depends on the youth in the setting, whereas if there is risk to harm to the animals then that can have a whole turn the experience into a negative one. For those who might be wary of them, the introduction has to be able to be done on a slow scale, and sometimes that can be difficult depending on where you are situated. It’s definitely something I’m going to keep exploring though, like you, I definitely see the benefits if the fit is right and mutually beneficial for the youth we’re working with and the animal’s welfare is being kept in mind at the same time.

Thanks for this topic that excites me! I really hope animals will become a part of the therapeutic process more as time goes on with good intent! :)

Ashley MacDonald

Hi Jordyn,

I have three dogs, one of who is a certified therapy dog, the second "in training" for her certification and the third, well, not her destiny but she is therapeutic to me!

We are active in Pacific Animal Therapy Society in Victoria, B.C.

Specific to youth, we participate in the Paws and Tales Program (see http://patspets.ca/wordpress/paws-and-tales for some good resources and links). Once a week, I drive Beowulf to his tutoring gig with a young woman who is behind her peers in reading and has a designation or two.

Beowulf loves every minute of it and I am told it has been helpful for this young person to emotionally regulate, stay focused, and engage in her school community in positive ways. In the summer we will be attending libraries. The demand for the program exceeds trained volunteers which speaks to what we intuitively know — dogs are good therapists!

As for "at-risk" youth, I think dogs are a great way to connect and I use stories and pictures of my companion species to connect with many youth, and think it would be great for your vision. I think it is important to consider temperament and training (for both steward and species!) — I learned more about behaviourial theory with dog training than any other aspect of my education!

I also love some of the literature that is coming out in CYC that addresses the inter-species relationships and how this is implicated in our decisions regarding environment, space designation, etc. I love Veronica Pacini Ketchabaw's work

Nicole Little

Hi there,

I have a Scottish terrier that comes to work with me and women survivors of violence and abuse. Her presence is warm, gentle and unconditional. Women absolutely love having her present. She is intuitive, sitting at the feet of a crying, lost soul, offering all that she has to give — just being there.

My own teens attended the nearby Bereavement centre for some grief counselling and were met by a volunteer’s dog. His welcoming, silly, goofy presence helped them get calm, stay grounded and set the tone for their time with the counselor — which they weren't too sure about! But the dogs presence made it all ok. Best of luck, it will be great!

Tamara Aspell

Hi Jordyn,

I work in a childcare program for 6 month olds to 6 years old in a hospital setting. The hospital frequently uses therapy dogs with patients here in the hospital and recently they offered a drop in to visit the therapy dogs. We brought all 49 of our children to visit the therapy dogs and we spent almost 2 hours with them and their owners. It was a wonderful, wonderful experience and we hope to do it again soon. I know there is a St. John Therapy Dog program www.sja.ca/bc and they visit Maple Ridge hospital.

Danielle Jimeno

Hi Jordyn,

Animal therapy with children and at risk youth (using dogs) is a passion of a friend and colleague of mine - Eileen Kilbride. Eileen is a brilliant child therapist who specializes in trauma. She has her own private practice which includes, among other things, "animal assisted therapy" with her own dogs. Here is her website:
http://www.kilbrideandassociates.com/

Under the Links tab she has links to other websites on animal assisted interventions that you might find useful. Click on the words animal assisted therapy to go to her other website "Pawsibilities" at http://pawsibilities.ca/

I am sure Eileen would be delighted to talk to you about her work.

I hope this is helpful.

Deborah Megens

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