Animal Assisted Therapies or AAT
For many, animals are a source of comfort. A variety of medical organizations have an interest in the psychological and physiological health benefit animals bring to humans. Some hospitals establish “animal-assisted therapy” programs for coma patients or cancer patients as well as others that can receive a health benefit from such interactions.
Note that some of these animals may be pets but the therapy itself is not pet therapy. Using the term pet therapy causes some confusion. The correct terminology to prevent such confusion is Animal Assisted Therapy.
Under the supervision of professionals, these therapy animals provide physical, psychological, and emotional benefit from interactive sessions with patients or individuals participating in an AAT program. Some examples include courts, nursing homes, schools, hospitals and other healthcare facilities. Successful use of therapy animals is dependent on evaluation of the animals’ safe interaction with participants and with care the animals’ integrity and safety is also respected. Handlers and/or trainers are trained as to best practices to ensure that therapy is successful. Handlers may be employed by the facility or volunteers. The most common animals used in therapy programs are dogs but dogs are not the only animals used for assisted animal therapy. Organizations offering AAT may use a variety of animals depending on the needs of their client. Farm or zoo animals, cats or even goldfish might be used in animal assisted therapies. The animals used are specific to the needs of the client and the goals set by the AAT program. In hospital programs, before a client can utilize an AAT program, a doctor must order it. Often the results are dependent on the realistic goals, preparation, planning and how receptive the client is to the therapy.
Some therapies, such as dolphin-assisted therapy, have not been studied extensively and are expensive. Others such as equine therapy have support of numerous research studies supporting a positive benefit.
Important to remember is that a therapy animal has no special rights of access, except in those facilities where they are welcomed. They may not enter businesses with “no pets” policies or accompany their handler in the cabin of an airplane regardless of their therapy animal designation.