Animal Assisted Interventions (AAIs) are interventions which are based upon the belief that interactions with animals have inherent value for humans on behavioural, cognitive, emotional, physical, psychological, relational and spiritual levels. AAI’s are intended to be carried out by qualified helping professionals who are trained animal handlers working with specially screened, trained and certified animals.
Although there is evidence to support the benefits of partnering with animals in all ways aforementioned and in doing Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) as a formal medium of therapeutic intervention, there is no standard code of practice in Canada.
As a psychologist who has been working in the field of Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) for nearly 17 years, I am excited by the momentum AAT is experiencing in Canada. I am contacted daily by Canadians who are exploring the intricacies of integrating animals into their practice and am aware of the current and interested practitioners.
There are several important ethical considerations for including animals in practice and they include the following:
- Understanding the many terms in the field to determine where your particular practice, skills and knowledge might fit.
- Staying within your scope of practice. As many people are attracted to animals in practice, often practitioners are requested to work with those who may not fit into their scope.
- Researching and attaining thorough training and certification as an animal assisted therapist. Certificates in AAI/T are available at the college level in some provinces in Canada (i.e., Alberta and Quebec) or training and arranging consultation with a credentialed, well known and ethical AAT professional.
- Ensuring your animal has been screened, tested and certified to work with you in your setting and with your population. Animals have preferences and ‘scopes of practice’ too and these should be discerned before the animal is integrated into practice.
- Consultations and training with skilled and trustworthy animal trainers or animal behavioral specialists who are cross-trained in AAT are vital to your animal being well prepared for its work and for you as the animal’s handler to be trained in understanding your animal’s communication and stress signals.
- Garnering advice about working animals’ schedules and the ratio of client/animal interactions is important to the health and well being of the animal and can be attained from these professionals or the AAT professional.
- Having a regular veterinarian who is knowledgeable about AAT, understands your species/breed and can advise on changes your animal may be experiencing is invaluable for your AAT animal’s health and welfare.
- It is often necessary to have extended insurance coverage (alongside professional liability insurance) when involving animals in practice. Determining whether both the practitioner and the facility require insurance for the AAT is necessary.
- Providing a waiver to participants is recommended to ensure fully informed consent for participation in AAT. The waiver should provide details of the AAT as well as a release of reliability for the therapist in the event of any unfortunate events that may occur during the AAT. The waiver requires the signature of the participant or guardians of minors.
It is an exciting time in our AAT field and I look forward to the promise of soon having approved guidelines to direct our practices and one day, a thorough Standards of Practice and Code of Ethics to govern us. Stay tuned for more-detailed Emergent Guidelines for Animals in Practice. In the meantime, I hope this information is helpful.
Animal Assisted Therapist
CEO and Executive Director of Dreamcatcher Nature Assisted Therapy
*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA