Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

Review of the Research: Are Therapy Dogs in Classrooms Beneficial?

Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

Review of the Research: Are Therapy Dogs in Classrooms Beneficial?

Article excerpt

Introduction:

Research over the past 30 years indicates that therapy dogs may offer physiological, emotional, social, and physical support for children (Friesen, 2010). The use of therapy dogs with children is successful due to children's natural tendency to open up to animals and the stress moderating effect of the calm and nonjudgmental presence of a therapy dog (Jalongo, Astorino & Bomboy, 2004). There has not only been an increase in the use of therapy dogs in classrooms in recent years, but the number of articles citing empirical research has greatly increased in the last ten years.

Terminology used:

Various terms are used to describe the use of therapy dogs. The preferred terms are: a) AnimalAssisted Activities (AAA) which provide opportunities for motivational, educational, or recreational benefits to enhance quality of life, and are delivered in a variety of settings by volunteers or trained professionals with animals that meet specific criteria; there are no specified treatment goals and the visit content is spontaneous; b) Animal-Assisted Education (AAE), which is a goal-oriented, planned intervention directed by a general education or special education professional, c) Animal-Assisted Intervention (AAI), which are goal oriented interventions which incorporate animals in health, education, and human services for improved health and wellness and/or therapeutic gains, and d) Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT), which is a planned, goal directed therapeutic intervention directed by health and human services providers as part of their profession, in which an animal that meets specific criteria is an integral part of the treatment process. According to Pet Partners, AAI, AAA, AAT and AAE are the preferred terms, and the term "pet therapy" should be avoided because it is inaccurate and misleading (https://petpartners.org/learn/terminology).

It is important to note that there are four distinct categories of animals used for various reasons and with various populations. A certified therapy dog provides comfort and affection, and their handlers are volunteers who visit hospitals, schools, nursing homes, hospice, libraries, and other facilities. These therapy animals have no special rights and must have the permission of the facility to visit. There are usually requirements such as grooming, providing veterinarian records, and proof of certification. Assistance animals (also called service dogs) are individually trained (not by the owner) to do work or perform tasks for people with specific disabilities, such as guide dogs for the blind, alerting people who are deaf, calming a person who has post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), dogs who provide mobility assistance, or communicate medical alerts for individuals with diabetes or epilepsy, for example. These dogs also greatly enhance the quality of the lives of their owners with a new sense of independence and freedom. Assistance dogs are considered working animals, not pets. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), these dogs are permitted to accompany a person with a disability almost anywhere, including restaurants, businesses, and airplanes. An emotional support dog, or comfort animal, is a pet that provides therapeutic support to a person with an emotional or mental illness and must be prescribed by a licensed mental health professional for a person with these conditions. The prescription must state that the individual has an impairment that substantially limits life activities and is necessary for the person's mental health. According to the ADA, emotional support animals do not have the same rights to public access as service dogs, but may travel with their owners on an airplane and may live with their owner in locations covered by the Fair Housing Amendments Act (FHAA). Facility dogs are regularly present in a residential or clinical setting. They may live with a handler who is an employee of the facility and come to work each day or may live at the facility full time under the care of a primary handler. …

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