III. Animal-Assisted Activity Programs

By Huss, Rebecca J. | Missouri Law Review, Spring 2012 | Go to article overview

III. Animal-Assisted Activity Programs


Huss, Rebecca J., Missouri Law Review


It is important to distinguish between service animals, assistance animals, and animals used for Animal Assisted Activities (AAA) and Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT). (129) AAA is more informal, takes place in a variety of environments, and is not targeted at any specific medical condition or person. (130) In contrast, AAT is utilized by a health care or human resources provider, is an integrated part of a treatment process for specific individuals, (131) is used in a wide range of therapies, and is reimbursed by health insurance companies. (132) Additionally, there is a growing trend of college-level training programs offering coursework in the area. (133) One university "employs" a dog raised and trained as a therapy dog that works in the Special Academic Services department and who assists with a graduate student counseling clinic which also services clients from the community. (134) Another university's counseling department uses an Affenpinscher that "sits in on therapy sessions and spends one-on-one time with students." (135)

AAT would not cause administrative issues for most college campuses, as they would be part of a structured program. In addition, because the persons with animals used for AAA and AAT are not required to be accommodated in public accommodations or otherwise under federal law, the decision to allow such animals on campus is at the discretion of the administration of the institution. (136)

A. Bringing Companion Animals to Campus

Animal-assisted activities are common at a variety of institutions. These animals (usually dogs) generally are referred to as therapy dogs and the programs often as "pet therapy." (137) The use of animal-assisted activity programs at colleges, although recent in origin, appears to be growing. (138)

AAA occurs under several circumstances. The dogs may be brought to campus in the aftermath of a traumatic event or in other times of stress for students. (139) One survey found that approximately forty-eight percent of college students had felt overwhelming anxiety at some point in the previous twelve months. (140) Some colleges bring in therapy dogs to help students who are homesick. (141) The period before final exams is also a common time for AAA programs to occur. (142)

Some of these programs appear to be ad hoc in nature. For example, at one college, three university staff members brought their dogs to campus after being inspired by a "student who lamented that she could always call and talk to her parents but never her dog." (143) At another university, a faculty member reported that she often brings one of her dogs to class on quiz and exam days. (144) Other programs are implemented after a more formal process. (145)

Some programs use staff members' animals, although the animals may be required to be certified by outside organizations. (146) Other programs utilize outside organizations that provide animal-assisted activities. Animals from shelters also may be used to "staff these programs. (148)

The numbers of students these programs impact varies. Administrators on one campus that utilized therapy dogs after a crisis estimated that the dogs came in contact with about 16,000 people on campus. (149) An established program at Kent State University has visited over "4000 students, with constant demand for more." (150) On another campus, a single event reached about 1000 students, (151) with at least 600 students participating in another event. (152) A two-hour event at a different college attracted nearly 300 students. (153)

Recent academic scholarship illustrated mixed results regarding the impact of these programs. One study was structured to investigate the interest in having an AAA program on campus as "social support for transient stressful periods." (154) This study noted that, although there had been research on the successful use of pet therapy for managing stress in persons with diverse illnesses and in disaster situations, there had not been reports on the use of pet therapy programs for populations such as college students. …

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