In the nineteenth-century, experiments in animal-assisted institutional care were successful. However, despite the success, the onset of scientific medicine largely eliminated animals from hospital settings by the early decades of the twentieth century (Allderidge, 1991).
Over the past twenty years, despite the historical scepticism of the medical establishment, AAT is being acknowledged as having potential for therapeutic benefit. Now, in the twenty-first century, there are theories built on previous research suggesting that AAT may be an effective treatment for people with various types of disorders. It acts as a diverse therapeutic approach whereby an animal is used as an integral part of the treatment process and is used for people across all ages, as apparent in much of the literature.
AAT is defined by the Delta Society (2006) as an intervention which is goal directed and delivered by a health service professional with specialised expertise. In recent studies, AAT has indeed been found to have clearly defined goals and has been designed to promote improvements in human physical, social, emotional and cognitive functioning.
For example, the simple action of repeatedly stroking an animal will improve physical functioning. It will cause a decrease in blood pressure and heart rate and can ultimately influence a persons’ quality of life (Shiloh et.al 2003). As a result, there are a variety of settings which have introduced AAT, including acute and critical care units, hospitals, nursing homes, psychiatric facilities, rehab facilities and hospices (Connor & Miller 2000).
A study was carried out by Martin and Farnum (2002) to examine the attachment of children with pervasive developmental disorders (PDD), such as ASD, with their social environment. The study used a live dog, a ball and a stuffed dog. A definite difference was determined in the participant’s engagement to the live dog, such as more laughter, communication with the dog, increased eye contact and the desire to care for the dog. Interestingly, increased hand flapping was observed by the author, which although generally perceived as a negative social expression, is in fact a positive sign in children with PDD (Fine 2010). Yet the limited number of participants in the study restricted the reliability of the results as a representation of the general population.
To be continued…