The field called animal-assisted therapy originated when the lay public began to take animals into nursing homes and other facilities to share them with residents. Unless medically supervised, these programs are now termed “animal-assisted activities,” whereas those directed as part of medical treatment are termed “animal-assisted therapy.” An emerging area is animal-assisted education, in which animals are provided to help improve classroom behavior or learning of children. Procedures for screening animals and providing training for the people involved are offered and have been standardized by the Delta Society. However, these are neither legislatively required as part of a certification process, nor is there a conventional educational process for individuals wanting to work in this area.
An accreditation process has recently been developed for instructional programs serving health professionals through the International Association for Animal-assisted Therapy. The University of Denver offers social work students an emphasis in animal-assisted therapy. Some individuals within human health professions, such as clinical psychology, social work, occupational therapy, physical therapy, or nursing, have incorporated animal-assisted activities and therapy into their professional practice.
A much larger number of people continue to volunteer to bring their animals into facilities, often with some screening process and training organized by local groups. Such groups often benefit from veterinary assistance and leadership in developing appropriate screening methods for selection and preparation of both animals and people participating in these programs.
Last full review/revision March 2012 by Lynette A. Hart, PhD