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Learning Center Experience
By Analeah Green, Adjunct Faculty, Kaplan University, School of Social and Behavioral Sciences
I’ve always considered myself to be a “dog person.” From calendars, mugs, t-shirts and other knick knacks, a canine was featured. From an early age, I remember having a dog and as an adult continue to own dogs as pets. It seems fitting that my professional interests would gravitate toward animals and their varied benefits on human well-being.
I was first introduced to the term “animal assisted therapy” as a graduate student studying social work and was hooked. I became familiar with animal assisted therapy and its varied forms through books, articles, websites, and videos. When I entered my doctoral program, the selection of a dissertation topic came naturally to me and I dived into the topic firsthand. I contacted a local agency that provides this service and started to connect the concepts I’ve been exposed to with direct practice.
First, I shadowed a therapy team at a dementia unit in a nursing facility. I observed that residents responded almost immediately to the calm and friendly poodle. In moments, residents were smiling, responding to questions, and engaging in conversation. Even the nursing staff responded warmly to the canine’s presence and I was told by the therapy team that similar exchanges occurred on a weekly basis.
Then I shadowed another therapy team at a local library for an after school reading program. I was told that children having difficulty with reading and comprehension were referred to the program by their teachers. When I attended, there was a group of six children ranging from the 3rd to 5th grade. Each child selected a book at or above his or her reading level and took turns reading out loud to a medium sized Labrador retriever. With one hand petting the Labrador and the other turning the pages of the book, each child completed the selected story. Regardless of pauses, stutters, mispronunciations, the Labrador listened intently and at the end, and each child smiled with pride. I am told that this program takes place twice a week throughout the school year and there is a desire to expand the program as a result of its success.
As a “dog person,” I am personally aware of the positive effects dogs can have. I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to see similar effects take place in a professional human services context. With increased awareness and development of the knowledge base surrounding animal assisted therapy, I am hopeful that others will use such services and integrate man’s best friend in their personal as well as their professional roles.
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