In order to delve into the significance of AAT, one must first attempt to understand the human-animal bond. It is often assumed that people who have pets are socially inept or that they are trying to replace an important human figure in their life (Walsh 2009). However, this assumption is opposed by findings that suggest that the vast majority of ‘pet lovers’ connect strongly with their human companions and have a greater capacity to love, show empathy, compassion towards others (Hines 2003) and have a greater frequency of social interaction (Messent 1983). A large body of research confirms that a wide range of species have cognitive, emotional and social intelligence. Dogs are the most commonly used animals, amongst others, including, dolphins, rabbits and horses (Vidrine et.al 2002). Dogs, in particular, have been found to have ability for complex feelings, read human cues in behaviour, and interpret even the most subtle facial expression and hand gestures (Katz 2003). This provokes humans to be more inclined to communicate with them.
However, the evidence supporting the positive effect animals have on humans is limited. There are not always positive outcomes; allergies or phobias towards animals may cause subsequent deterioration in both physical and psychological health. Conversely, a child who has contact with animals from a very young age is less likely to develop these symptoms (Mallon et.al 2010). Existing literature (Triebenbacher 2000, Melson 2000) also indicates that animal contact may be particularly suited for children, as the animal can be conducive to a more enriching childhood experience; thereby contributing to their social and cognitive development.
In an article by Zilcha-Mano, Mikulincer and Shaver (2011), there is an attempt to fill in the theoretical gaps of AAT by proposing a model based on attachment theory and the unique characteristics of the human-pet relationship. The article demonstrates the positive effect that pets could potentially have in a therapy session, not only for the client but for the therapists themselves, who can resort to the presence of the animal in a challenging situation. Furthermore, it is suggested by the authors that having a pet is beneficial as it enables nonverbal interactions and encourages emotional attachment, of particular significance where the client is unable to trust another human being. Although this article explores extensive theoretical and empirical literature in depth, regarding the interpersonal and human-pet relationships, more evidence is necessary to underlie the attachment-related mechanisms by which AAT contributes to beneficial therapeutic outcomes.