In the area of therapy animals, practice is far outpacing research. People think it works and like the idea of it, so they do it.
One challenge as the practice has become more widespread has been explaining how exactly it works. “Positive changes from animal-assisted intervention are varied and there is no single pathway that has yet been identified”.
There are a number of theories as to why it works, however.
One is the biophilia hypothesis – essentially that humans have an innate propensity to connect with other living things, another is the social support theory – the idea that therapy animals provide a form of non-judgemental support.
Starting from these statements in 2015, Maith Association has devised a monitoring pattern for hospices together with the hospice staff.
First of all, together with the vet we chose the most ideal animals; while any breed or mutt can be a therapy dog, a certain kind of personality is required. “Visiting unfamiliar people in unfamiliar settings requires a well-trained, healthy dog, with a positive temperament and good manners”.
We set goals, mainly recreational and emotional/affectional support:
fostering patients’ mental and physical wellness (for physical wellness we mean try to soothe pain perception)
emotional support: animals are “emotional intermediary” and further their outing through the non-verbal channel of communication (posture, facial mimicking, body language…)
For a six month period we went to the hospice twice a week and we had access both to atrium and to private bedrooms.
Each therapy session lasted two hours with a break of ten minutes.
At the end of every single session the animal handler had to fill in three evaluation sheets:
one for patients
one for their relatives (if present)
one for healthcare professionals.
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