Last week we looked at animal-assisted therapy (AAT) in the rising field of therapy programs that involve animal participation. This week we will discuss animal-assisted activities (AAA), another branch of these therapy programs.
AAA (not to be confused with the American Automobile Association) is where animals visit with residents and/or patients in nursing homes, hospitals, and other environments just like AAT animals, but what sets them apart is that there are no specific therapeutic goals laid out such as; improving social skills or motor functions. An AAA dog will visit a nursing home and cheer up patients, but a licensed therapist is not required to supervise the interactions, a staff member or the animal’s handler can conduct the visit and be responsible for the animal’s care and well-being.
1FUR1 grantee, Tree House Humane Society, has such AAA program that is beneficial for both the humans and cats involved. According to their website, “Every week there are Volunteers that take adoptable Tree House cats to visit the elderly in nursing homes, patients in hospitals, and even residents of women’s shelters, just to name a few.” Humans get the well-documented benefits of AAA in that their blood pressure lowers, “happy” and “relaxation” chemicals of dopamine, oxytocin, and endorphins are released by the brain, and a lower, “resting” heart rate. The cats, meanwhile, get “socialized,” which is crucial for their adopt-ability. They get used to traveling in cat carriers and cars, getting their nails clipped, and seeing new faces, which will help them adjust to new environments.
Another widely reported instance of AAA is the emerging trend of bringing dogs to schools and colleges to cheer up students who feel stressed about finals. Skeptics warn about AAA animals being a “temporary fix” in this situation, but students, teachers, and parents who have had such programs installed in their schools praise them. They say seeing stressed-out students interact with the dogs relaxes them for a moment in this “go-go-go world” and they are better at focusing on their schoolwork rather than if they had just worked on schoolwork the whole time without taking such a break. Dr. Julie Paradise found in her research that students who worked with dogs in the classroom “demonstrated more reading growth than their peers, had a more positive attitude toward schoolwork, were more willing to participate in classroom activities, were more successful with higher level thinking skills, and were more self-confident.”
In addition to the more popular pets like cats and dogs, more unconventional animals can be part of a AAA program. Horses, miniature horses, llamas and alpacas, dolphins, elephants, guinea pigs, monkeys, rabbits, goats, pigs, kangaroos, parrots, ferrets, chickens, and ducks have all been documented to be AAA animals, and the list is only growing. AAA animals just have to be calm and friendly, not rigorously trained like AAT animals and service animals. No matter the animal, the snuggles seem to be worth it for human and animal alike.