A network to share best practices for children with special needs
Hello! This week we are discussing therapeutic animals. While I see huge value in having a therapeutic animal, I have found that it is a subject that elicits many differing opinions. We all know about seeing-eye dogs and dogs that are trained to be a partner for a child (or adult) in a wheelchair and unable to be independent. But there are other ways a therapeutic animal can provide a “life-line” for children. I am a former Director of Special Education, so I have had direct experience with the trained animals and have seen first-hand the effect they have on some children. It was remarkable.
There was a self-contain learning disabled class at our intermediate school. In this class, there were several children with behavioral issues. As often is the case, the behaviors were interfering with academic achievement. (Does this sound familiar to anyone?) One of our teachers trained therapeutic dogs and came to me with a proposal to bring one of her dogs into the classroom with the children. Before agreeing, I did some research on the training of the animals and any empirical data that was available on the effects the dogs have on the children. I certainly got an education into this therapy. It has been substantiated that the animals have a calming effect on the children. They relate and respond to the animals because they:
• Feel non-threatened; that the animals love them for who they are and are always glad to see them and be with them, no matter what kind of day the child has had;
• feel emotionally safe, thus free to “talk to the therapeutic animal because they know whatever they tell the animal will not go any further, so they feel uninhibited and can talk about their true feelings;
• develop a true sense of caring and love;
• calm children who have anger issues.
After researching, securing parental and principal permission and making sure none of the children were allergic to dogs, we implemented the program. The results were heart-warming. The children responded to the animals with tenderness and compassion. They could not wait for the day that the dog came to their classroom. Behavior problems decreased drastically. Everyone was so excited…..most of all the children. As a matter of fact, all of the children in the school loved to see the dog!
Unfortunately, there was a teacher’s assistant in another classroom who complained that she did not like dogs and was afraid to go to work on the days this dog visited the classroom. I encouraged her to read all of the information on therapeutic animals before she led the movement to stop the program. Her mind was closed, and she insisted the children were not safe around the dog. In result, the superintendent made us stop the program and the dog was not allowed in the school anymore. The children were so sad and disappointed. They truly missed the dog!
There are many people who are not “animal people”. That is certainly understandable and okay. However, if you are one of those who have had an unpleasant experience or just would rather not be around an animal and work in a school or have a child in a classroom where they want to implement a program with a therapeutic animal, PLEASE read the research and literature on the value of therapeutic animals before you object! It has been my experience that the positives far outweigh the negatives!
To learn more about the benefits of pet therapy, go to: