Standards of Practice in Animal-Assisted Interventions
What are standards of practice and why are they important?
- Standards of practice help to provide the following for the health, welfare, and safety of all who are involved:
- Higher quality of service to all clients.
- A resource for risk management and quality assurance.
- An educational resource for staff, personnel, and policy makers.
- Evidence of internal structure and consistency to other professions that interface with therapy animals.
Summary of Standards of Practice in AAI
Standards for handlers
- Topics covered in this section include the following:
- Responsible pet ownership.
- Handler knowledge of their animal, including baseline health indicators for their pet; ability to identify, understand, and respond to changes in animal body language; and ability to predict or anticipate the animal’s reaction to different situations.
- AAI-specific training, including handler responsibilities; best practices for handling; best practices in working with clients; professional conduct; zoonosis and infection prevention; and handler self-care.
- Access to continuing education.
- Maintaining recognized handling credentials.
- It is protective for handlers to be aware of safety policies specific to the populations that they visit with (Linder et al., 2017; Jegatheesan et al., 2018). Handlers should be educated so that they realize the impact that certain policies and procedures have on zoonosis and infection prevention (Murthy et al., 2015; Serpell, et al., 2020).
- In order for AAI to be ethical, handlers must have training respective of the intervention they will be providing. (Kerulo et al., 2020; Stewart, 2014).
- Handlers involved in crisis-response with their therapy animal partners should have specific training to prepare them for this kind of work (Greenbaum, 2006; Stewart et al., 2016).
Standards for therapy animals
- Topics covered include the following:
- Appropriate species for therapy animals.
- Core obedience skills.
- Suitable temperament, including an affiliative nature; well-socialized; enjoying a variety of client interactions; and adaptability in changing environments.
- Handler-animal bond.
- Grooming, house training and maturity requirements for animals.
- Animals should be thoughtfully selected and paired with a population given their unique abilities, characteristics, and preferences (Fredrickson-MacNamara et al., 2006; Linder at al., 2017; Winkle et al., 2020).
- Considerations related to the therapy animal, such as level of training, health/vaccine status, and grooming help to prevent chance of spreading infection and/or zoonosis (Hardin et al., 2016; Serpell et al., 2020).
- A therapy animal handler should have a highly developed relationship with their therapy animal (Stewart et al., 2013).
- Therapy animals should be adult, ideally socially mature (Murthy et al., 2015).
standards for assessment
- Topics in this section include the following:
- Knowledge assessment for the handler.
- Practical assessment, for the handler and the therapy animal.
- Timeline for recurring assessments.
- Qualifications of the evaluator and the evaluation location.
Standards for animal welfare
- Topics covered in this section include the following:
- Active consent and comfort considerations for participating animals.
- Core welfare considerations including time limitations, routine veterinary care, and supervision.
- Positive training and non-coercive equipment.
- When an animal should be removed.
- Handlers should be trained to recognize signs of their therapy animal needing to be removed from session, either temporarily or for the purposes of retirement (Murthy et al., 2015; Ng & Fine, 2019; Brelsford et al., 2020)
- Therapy animals are protected by time limits on their sessions that prevent them from being overworked (Murthy et al., 2015; Jegatheesan et al., 2018; Serpell et al., 2020).
- We should have a developed bond with the therapy animals with whom we partner so that we are best prepared to advocate for their welfare and well-being in animal-assisted interventions (Stewart, 2013; Ng, 2019).
- Positive training methodologies not only protect the relationship that a handler shares with their animal, but they have also been found to be more effective than aversive methods of behavior modification (Makowska, 2018; China et al., 2020).
- Therapy animals should not simply tolerate but should enjoy their role in animal-assisted interventions (Clark et al., 2020).
- Visits should be limited to one animal per handler (Murthy et al., 2015).
standards for risk management
- This section addresses the following topics:
- Management of incidents.
- Vaccination requirements.
- Raw meat diets.
- Infection prevention topics such as hand hygiene and barrier use as well as handler and animal health requirements.
- Insurance requirements.
recommendations for facilities
- Facilities that seek to offer AAI should consider not only the requirements for therapy animal teams, but also the roles and responsibilities of facility staff in ensuring safe and effective interactions. This section includes the following topics of interest to facilities:
- Identifying appropriate therapy animal teams.
- Identifying appropriate clients for therapy animal visits.
- Establishing program goals.
- Needs including space, supplemental training and documentation.
recommendations for future research
- Selecting therapy animals for research studies.
- Ethical considerations.
- Guidance for handlers participating in research as well as non-researchers seeking research.