Animal-Assisted Therapy

Steven blog2013 picMy dog, Lady, and I have been a registered Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT) team since last summer.  As a therapy team, Lady and I have volunteered in the waiting room of Child Advocates of Fort Bend.  Children are always in the room waiting for a forensic interview to disclose child abuse or a therapy appointment or sometimes just a sibling.  Having a dog in the room is a great distraction that draws the children’s attention away from their problems and calms and soothes them.  For her part, Lady is a gentle and sensitive soul, lying down and leaning into the children.  She sits calmly while the children brush out her rabbit-soft fur or even paint her toenails!

With my license I hope to incorporate Lady even more into my clinical social work practice.  Research consistently shows therapeutic benefits gained from human-animal interactions.  My GCSW foundation research poster expounded on some of the benefits: therapy animals can engage a reluctant client in a non-threatening topic of discussion; the act of petting can reduce human anxiety; the presence of the animal can reduce no-shows; the animals can act as a surrogate for therapeutic touch; contact can lower physiological signs of stress, and animals (especially dogs) naturally exemplify unconditional positive regard and mindfulness.

In addition to the therapeutic benefits of any animal, Lady has a personal story of salvation that may resonate with many clients.  Lady was found in the fall of 2006, in Lubbock, Texas, where I was going to school at the time.  She wandered into our yard barefoot, pregnant, starved, and sick with infection.  The neighbors had noticed her scrounging in dumpsters for food and that no one would claim her.  My roommates and I allowed her up on the couch where she did nothing but eat and sleep for weeks.

In the middle of the night, during finals week, Lady gave one terrified yelp.  It was the only time we have heard her cry out in pain.  Over the next six hours she gave birth to 10 healthy, adorable puppies.  With the Fall semester ended, we attempted to take Lady and her litter to a local shelter, which kindly explained to us that the puppies would be euthanized immediately and Lady three days later unless someone adopted her.  Without any other resources, we turned to my parents.  We loaded Lady and the 10 puppies in the back of my car and drove 10 hours to Houston.  My father turned the garage into a shelter with a padded crate full of soft blankets and a wall of space heaters.

Lady proved to be an amazing parent to all of her children.  Although the diverse phonotypical range of her puppies led us to believe she had been ‘friendly’ with more than one gentleman, she relentlessly showed amazing love and devotion to her puppies.  She refused to leave them even for a nice walk in the sunshine.  After about eight weeks, when the puppies were all eating solid food, my parents went to the local elementary school and gave away the puppies to loving adoptive homes in the neighborhood.  They found a home for Lady herself, but in the end, could not give her away and took her in as one of their own.

After I graduated and moved back to Houston, Lady became enamored with my other dog Howard (another rescue story from Lubbock).  She merged with our pack and has been with me ever since.  Her gentle demeanor, friendly attitude, and warm disposition put even the least animal-friendly people at ease.  Telling her story to the children, helps them to believe that good things can happy, that Lady Cinderella stories are true.  The proof is right there nuzzling and licking them.

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5 Comments

  1. I stumbled across your post this afternoon, are you currently doing any research on AAT benefits within the clinical setting? I am also a registered AAT (and LMSW) with my dog and am looking to collaborate in a research endeavor. 🙂

  2. To the writer of this article and Lauren: I am an LMSW working on my LCSW in a geriatric counseling program. I would like to be a registered AAT for my clinical work but I do not know where to start. Do you guys have any suggestions for how to become registered/certified? Thanks for any info!

    1. Hello Edith, thank you for your interest in this blog. Unfortunately, the author has graduated from the program. We hope you continue to read and possibly make contact with a current ambassador.

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