The distinction between animal-assisted therapy and animal assisted activities is described well by the Delta Society, a leading international organization that provides training for both types of interventions. The following are definitions given in the Delta Society’s Standards of Practice (1996):
Animal-Assisted Activities - provide opportunities for socialization, recreation, education, and simple comfort and enrichment. The activities are conducted in a variety settings and include such things as animals visiting nursing homes, schools, libraries, and community functions. The animals are trained and screened and are handled by specifically trained volunteers.
Animal-Assisted Therapy - is a more targeted intervention in which the animal is integrated as part of the treatment process for patients. The service has specific goals and is conducted by a trained professional. The use of this intervention is documented and evaluated as to its relevance and usefulness for specific patients.
Some of the patient populations who have been described as benefiting from animal-assisted therapy include children with autism and developmental problems, patients with mood and anxiety disorders, veteran’s with post-traumatic stress disorder, and medically ill patients undergoing difficult treatments and procedures.
Therapeutic Pups is an animal-assisted therapy service since it is being used specifically with adolescent patients with eating disorders and is conducted by a PhD clinical psychologist. Therapeutic Pups does not offer an animal-assisted activity program, although our therapeutic dog, Murphy, does participate at times in performances at the hospital.
In addition to Therapeutic Pups, there is currently one other animal-assisted therapy service at Children’s National, conducted by Sheela Stuart, PhD, director of Hearing and Speech. She uses a dog, Ellie, a standard poodle, in her hearing evaluations and her treatment of children and adolescents with speech and language delays.
Children’s National also offers animal-assisted activities led by Dana Morgan, of the New Horizons Arts Program, under the direction of Tina Lassiter, Director of Art Programs and Acquisitions. Activities include dogs visiting and performing in the hospital.
There is no specific breed of dog that has been shown to be most effective in doing pet therapy. The dog’s temperament and willingness to do the work is most important. Therapeutic Pups chose a Bichon Frise (French for, 'curly white lap dog') for several reasons:
Bichons were not bred for a specific job such as tracking, hunting, herding, or running fast around a track. They were used from their beginning as "lap dogs" for the nobility, as companion dogs for sailors, and by street minstrels to do tricks in order to get tips.
Qualities such as being highly social, loving and entertaining are most associated with this breed.
Bichons do not shed and are hypoallergenic.
A consideration in choosing any dog to do Animal Assisted Therapy is the individual dog’s personality and the dog’s natural inclination to be outgoing and social and affectionate. A dog that is very shy or overly sensitive may not be a good fit. The dog needs to be happy doing the work and not forced to do something that is not within his comfort level. It is stressful for a dog to be in the room with patients who may be struggling with difficult emotions such as sadness and anger. The dog needs to be resilient enough to absorb tension around him without becoming stressed and reactive or suffering emotionally himself.
Murphy's breeder was Polly Cooper of PT Breeze Bichons. Polly has been so touched by Murphy’s therapeutic work at Children’s National that she wrote an article about this in an issue of Bichon Frise Reporter (Summer 2011). He comes from a championship family. In 2001, his grandfather, J.R., became the only bichon frise to ever win Best in Show at the Westminster Dog Show.
Yes. Our goal is to expand our current animal-assisted therapy for adolescents with eating disorders, as well as, serve as consultants to other therapists and institutions that want to set up similar programs. Through Therapeutic Pups, we hope to explore and document innovative and creative approaches to enhancing the treatment of patients struggling with disorders that potentially have very damaging medical and psychological effects.
To make a donation to Therapeutic Pups: Make your check payable to Children’s National Medical Center with the following notation on the memo line: “Restricted use: Animal-Assisted Therapy/Ther Pups.
Dr. Darlene Atkins
Children's Outpatient Center in Spring Valley
4900 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20016