Animal Assisted Therapy | Kay Trotter

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All Posts in Category: Animal Assisted Therapy

History Making Bill…Animal Assisted Therapy Law

On October 1st 2013 Connecticut will make history by enacting the FIRST Animal Assisted Therapy Bill

As the first bill of its kinds Connecticut realized the emotional and psychology benefits of including an animal in the mental health therapy treatment process.

Some of the bill highlights include

  • Training  individuals on (1) the healing value of the human-animal bond 
for children, (2) the value of therapy animals in dealing with 
traumatic situations, and (3) the benefit of an animal assisted therapy 
  • Collaboration with mental health 
care providers to incorporate animal assisted therapy into the therapy for children and youth.
  • Develop a coordinated volunteer canine crisis response team for crisis intervention.
  • Develop a results based 
accountability assessment of the results of animal assisted programs.

Below is the complete Connecticut Animal Assisted Therapy Bill 

History Making Bill Signed by Connecticut Governor – here is the actual bill


Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives in General Assembly convened:

Section 1. (NEW) (Effective October 1, 2013) (a) For purposes of this 
section, “animal assisted therapy” means goal-directed intervention in 
which animals are used as an integral part of the treatment process for 
individuals who have experienced mental, physical or emotional trauma and “animal assisted therapy community” 
means the local or regional entities possessing the staff and 
capabilities to engage in animal assisted therapy including, but not 
limited to, the Connecticut Humane Society, Soul Friends, Inc. and 
Animal Assisted Therapy Services, Inc.

(b) Not later than 
January 1, 2014, the Commissioner of Children and Families, within 
available appropriations, shall develop and implement training for 
certain employees of the Department of Children and Families and mental 
health care providers, on (1) the healing value of the human-animal bond 
for children, (2) the value of therapy animals in dealing with 
traumatic situations, and (3) the benefit of an animal assisted therapy 

(c) Not later than January 1, 2014, the Commissioner 
of Children and Families, in consultation with the Governor’s Prevention
Partnership and the animal assisted therapy community and within available appropriations, shall develop and operate, or contract for, an
animal assisted therapy program. Such program shall: (1) Provide animal
 assisted therapy to children and youths living with trauma and loss; 
(2) provide animal assisted therapy to children and youths with 
behavioral health needs who are in the custody of the Department of 
Children and Families; (3) allow for collaboration with mental health 
care providers to incorporate animal assisted therapy into the therapy 
plan for youths or children; (4) promote the healing benefits of the 
human-animal bond by providing interactive empathetic training 
activities with therapy animals; (5) incorporate nonverbal learning into
the formulation of trauma treatment modalities; and (6) demonstrate 
positive outcomes for children.

(d) Not later than January 1, 
2014, the Commissioner of Children and Families, in consultation with 
the Commissioner of Agriculture and within available appropriations, 
shall develop a coordinated volunteer canine crisis response team. Such 
team shall consist of various handlers and canines that have been 
trained and certified to provide comfort and relief to individuals 
during and after traumatic events. Such team shall operate on a 
volunteer basis and shall be available to provide animal assisted 
therapy within twenty-four hours of receiving notice to do so.

(e) Not later than January 1, 2014, the Commissioner of Children and 
Families, in consultation with the Commissioner of Agriculture and the 
joint standing committee on children, shall develop a results based 
accountability assessment of the results of the programs implemented 
pursuant to subsections (b) to (d), inclusive, of this section to (1) 
determine the effectiveness of animal assisted therapy, (2) begin the 
process of identifying curriculum-based animal assisted therapy as a 
potential best practice approach, and (3) demonstrate positive outcome 
measures in hopefulness, tied to resilience in the literature and other 
social emotional measures of healthy child development.


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Equine Interactive Professional Certification

Both equine interactive mental heath professionals and equine interactive education professionals need to be able demonstrate competent level of training, education and experience in providing equine interactive services. The Certification Board for Equine Interactive Professions Certification is the flagship certification safeguarding the public of the practitioners qualifications to offer equine interactive therapy and services.

Benefits of Certification Board for Equine Interactive Professions CBEIP Certification 

Professional Distinction – Certification provides documented evidence of examination by an independent certifying organization and demonstrates high level of knowledge about the specialized field of equine assisted interaction.

Certification is identified by the public as signifying professionalism, specialized training and knowledge in the field of equine assisted interaction.

As work with equines in mental health and education becomes more readily identifiable by the public, credentials such as the CEIP will assist professionals to establish their credibility.

Commercial General Liability Insurance – Coverage with Markel Insurance Company is available to Certified Equine Interaction Professionals whether they own, lease, use their own facility, or are independent contractors traveling to other locations to practice equine assisted therapy or education.

Cristina Rennie MA RCCI – This Certification  shows clients that professionals are wanting to hold high standards in the work and therefore gives people more information about the field and the qualifications a person has… related to informed consent, scope of practice and ethics. – Cristina Rennie MA RCC , BC Canada,

Ann Alden, MA, CEIP-ED – I took this exam when it was first offered and have renewed it once already. I highly recommend it because it is independent of any model or organization. Instead it is independently tested in a way that allows the applicant to demonstrate their knowledge, experience and competence in providing equine-human interactions. I missed a few questions primarily because I have been out of graduate school so long I think. I would personally much prefer to send someone to a practitioner who has this type of certification than one that is limited to one model or type of approach to working with horses to help people. I took the test at a small aviation center near the Tucson airport and was given 2 hours to finish it, more than I needed. – Ann Alden, MA, CEIP-ED, PATH International Certified Instructor and Equine Specialist in Mental, Health and Learning., Sonoita, AZ,

CBEIP Certification – Study Guide

By Barbara Rector

In answer to questions on what to study for the domains of competency covered in the CBEIP exam. Here are some ideas that will help as you prepare to take the exam. The administrative and horses questions specific to experiential education and/or mental health is best done from my perspective through review of your common sense practices offering your services with the help of horses.

There undoubtedly are cultural influences imbedded in the questions just as there are different ways of keeping horses humanely depending on your area of the country or world.

Best to review the Adult D level Pony Cub curriculum or your favorite book that offers basic skills of horsemanship information.

Watch the videos on line of the horse behaviors put out by Penn State at The New Bolton Center.

Review the Standards and Safety Guidelines, just read as if a novel of: PATH Intl, ACRIP or the Pony Club.

Review your particular basic text used when studying experiential education and/or mental health. There are several good suggestions from the CBEIP Handbook in the References list located at the back.

I urge everyone who meets the qualifications for sitting the exam to have a go at it. Don’t worry about passing. You may miss a number of the questions and still pass, (80% is required to pass), and you can take the test over until a passing grade is achieved.

If you don’t understand a question or believe there is no good answer, make note of it. Write your rational for your answer and send it to the CBEIP Board to pass along to the Question Developers. It may be that the question requires re-wording or clarification with better references, in which case you may not lose points for an incorrect answer.

Barbara Rector MA, CEIP-ED,
Adventures In Awareness™

To find out more about CBEIP Certification please go to their web site

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What training does my dog need to become a animal assisted therapy dog?


I get asked this question alot:

“I am looking for ideas and suggestions for what type of training I should acquire for me and my puppy so that he can be used as a therapy dog.  My goal is to use him in therapy sessions with my clients. “

Because Animal Assisted Therapy is relatively new and exploding in the mental health field this, type of question is asked often. Along with similar questions as: What training is needed to incorporate horses into the therapy arena? But, that’s a horse of a different color and needs its own posting. This post will share some of the wonderful and much-needed answers that this question generated – I hope you find it valuable.

Dr Rise VanFleet

Dr Rise VanFleet

Rise VanFleet is a Psychologist, 
Registered Play Therapist-Supervisor, 
Certified Dog Behavior Consultant
 who has practiced for nearly 40 years. Her specialties are in traumatic events, chronic medical illness, strengthening parent-child relationships (esp. Filial Therapy), and Animal Assisted Play Therapy. She is the author of dozens of books, manuals, chapters, and articles on play therapy, Filial Therapy, AAPT, and canine behavior.


Risë VanFleet – This is such an important question!

Be really sure that if you go to training classes that you use positive methods, not compulsion methods with your puppy/dog. You have to be quite careful about this, as some force-oriented trainers are selling their work or their equipment using very misleading information. I have an article on my website about finding a good trainer near you (, under Resources). I’ve included there some questions you can ask and what answers to listen for. For therapy work, it’s incredibly important to use positive approaches because they build your own relationship with the dog and provide the right type of model for any clients that you work with. (Just on my short list: anything that includes electrical shocks or “taps” or prongs, or chokes, or poking the dog are not okay, and there are excellent positive training options available.)

  1. Pet Partners (formerly Delta Society) and TDI are both reputable programs, but the ACA insurance consideration would be an important one. TDI has a policy statement now that prohibits anyone certified through them to NOT certify with anyone else, which means that people seeking a further credential for therapy work, such as my more specialized certification in Animal Assisted Play Therapy, cannot do so. So that depends on what your own goals might be. When it comes to insurance, you’ll want to look into both professional liability insurance as well as general business liability insurance (which is for scratches, bites, dog knocks child down, etc.). I believe another person posted about this.
  2. The other response about socializing the dog and also watching out for the fear periods is very good!
  3. For you or anyone with puppies, there are a couple free booklets available by Dr. Ian Dunbar, available as downloads at, under Downloads.
  4. The book’s suggestions so far are excellent as well. I’ll add my own: Play Therapy with Kids & Canines, for those of you who work with children and have an interest in child-dog play interventions to meet therapeutic goals (it won the 2008 Dog Writers Association of America award for best of all therapy and service dog books for that year).
  5. For those with interests in working with children, teens, and families with children, I have an online course called “Introduction to Animal Assisted Play Therapy,” which offers 10 CE credits and includes information about the involvement of both dogs and horses. I’m just now finishing up another online course on Canine Communication for therapy work – how to recognize, read, and understand canine body language, one of the really critical skills that I think all of us therapists need to develop. By early 2013, I hope to have another online course available on Canine Behavior and Training. These are not intended to substitute for the actual work we need to be doing daily with our dogs, but to provide some guidance about the different methods and options. More info is at, where you can click to see the current Online Course as well as visit my Playful Pooch Program, where the live trainings are described (one is scheduled in PA for June 2013) and there are also some articles about AAPT, involving dogs and horses, etc.
  6.  Probably the best overall book about dog training, in my opinion, is Jean Donaldson’s Culture Clash. It reviews basic behaviorism in a non-trivial way, and applies everything to dogs. There are other excellent books as well.

I’m glad to try to answer further questions. Once I started involving one of my dogs in my play therapy work with children and families nearly 10 years ago, I realized how much more I had to learn, and have been involved in learning to train dogs using positive, relationship-building approaches and also canine behavior consultation work ever since. The nice thing is that learning all of this stuff adds to the fun you can have with your dog, and it’s all relevant to the therapeutic work most of us do, too.

I forgot to say earlier – I know that Pet Partners (Delta) advocates for positive training and does not permit or condone the use of prong, choke, or e-collars either (that is likely true of TDI as well).

I had one further thought that might be of interest to this group. On Facebook, I have a multidisciplinary group called Animal Assisted Play Therapy, and it is open to anyone who is interested in having discussions about the world of AAT, dog training and behavior, etc. It’s a very nice group, and we have therapists, dog trainers, veterinarians, writers, and others as part of the group.

One of the things that we started there (but need to pick back up with) is a collection of YouTube dog training videos that show some simple and dog-friendly methods to teach various things.

If you’d like to join that group, too, you can either just go to the group itself (Animal Assisted Play Therapy) and ask to join, or you can send me a friend request along with a private message indicating that you’d like to join that group, and I’ll add you myself. It’s a closed group so not everyone can see everything we’re talking about (and to keep spammers out if possible), but I accept anyone who has a legitimate interest.

Contact Rise VanFleet by visiting her website

Dr. Taylor and Eli

Dr. Carlene Taylor is the Clinical Director at LightHorse, a non-profit organization striving to guide people towards healing of the body, mind, and spirit through a partnership between humans and animals. Dr. Taylor works with her Portuguese Water Dog, Eli, in the treatment of children and families.


Dr. Carlene Taylor – I have trained my third office therapy dog. My first was a Dalmatian I had when I was in grad school and we did the best we could. The second was an English Mastiff who I used a systematix training from 5 weeks old, and my current dog, Eli, is 2-years-old and just completed a very rigorous process. He is my best trained yet. All total, I’ve had a K9 partner for more than 15 years.

Here is what I do:

Buy the book “How to raise a puppy you can live with”

  • Read it cover-to-cover and have a professional perform temperament testing so you know what you are working with
  • Pursue basic puppy obedience in GROUP lessons
  • Take every opportunity to socialize your pup
  • Graduate from puppy school and do intermediate training with a group trainer.
  • At a year or 18 months (maybe 2), when the dog has begun to show some signs of beginning to mature, pursue AKC Canine Good Citizen training to test.
  • Finally, I finished Eli off with Delta Society’s Pet Partners training and testing.

Eli, my therapy dog, can do anything and go anywhere without incident.  In the process of completing this training, our relationship deepened and we learned how to work together.

I have three books I live by: Dr. Cynthia Chandler’s Animal Assisted Therapy in Counseling, Aubry Fine’s Handbook on Animal Assisted Therapy and Temple Grandin’s Animals Make us Human

This is what I do: in addition to being very particular to follow the developmental milestones outlined in the puppy training book during the first two years,  I make very sure Eli gets what he needs in terms of socialization, dog play times and the balanced relationship of respect and responsiveness to my authority. In the office, I hold him accountable to basic behavioral limits but let him be free to relate to clients without my interference.

There is a workbook I have worked on with colleague, The Therapy Dog Primer.  We have considered doing a 2-day workshop for those who might want to learn the field.  How many of you would go?  What would you be willing/able to pay for a CEU class that prepared you to communicate with and train your dog to enter the field?

Contact Dr. Carlene Taylor at TaylorLightHorse,, or

Christi Dudzik and Paddy

Christi Dudzik is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and owner of the company, Healing Paws, Inc., which provides therapy handler-animal training for volunteers and professionals and provides facility therapy animal programming. She has been a Pet Partners teammate to multiple dogs since 1993 and is a Master Pet Partners Handler and Evaluator Instructor.


Christi Dudzik – I’d like to address your question regarding therapy team training, evaluation, registration. Hands down, without a doubt, you want to pursue Pet Partners® Therapy Animal Program. Their program is the gold standard in the industry. Their’s is a standards-based program, with a strong sense of accountability.

Their evaluation truly evaluates both ends of the leash.  They want to see how you, the handler, will be proactive and supportive of your pup, and want to see impulse control, response to your commands, and how much your pup appears to be enjoying the interactions with the evaluator and evaluation volunteers.

The evaluation is divided into vignettes, so that it flows as naturally as possible, and looks like a real-life visit in a health care setting. Their reason for the evaluation being focused on health care settings is that, if the team is prepared for working with such fragile and somewhat unpredictable people and situations, they will be ready to visit in other settings. Also, every two years, in order to maintain current Pet Partners team registration, you and your pup will need to go through the evaluation again.

The team evaluation is one step in their process. You, the handler, also need to either go through a workshop or complete their online course, and then there is the veterinarian check, and other paperwork in the registration packet to complete. It is a well thought out process that takes more time than with other registering organizations.

One other thing, there is a different mind-set between “using” our therapy dogs and “working with” them. “Working with” indicates team work. “Using” indicates it is all about the dog. I have been a registered teammate to dogs since 1993.

Contact Christi Dudzik, MC, LMHC,, (425) 488-3061 or



Terry Abell, LMHC has used animal assisted therapy primarily with at-risk youth for over 10 years and training interns from a variety of fields (such as Social Work, Counseling, Art Therapy, Child Dev., etc.) to utilize animals in therapy. Terry is a Certified Counseling Supervisor, Delta Pet Partner and teaches at Florida State University multicultural Center in Tallahassee, Fla.


Terry Abble – I would strongly suggest a basic puppy obedience class, it will help you understand how to train him and give him practice in focusing w/distractions. It’s also a good time to take him out and start widely socializing him. I took my first therapy dog to festivals, to restaurants where we could sit outside, to street fairs, etc., anywhere we could meet and greet people and to get him used to folks wanting to come up and pet him and talk to him. My default position is having him sit with his back to me, almost on my feet, when he meets new people. That way he is secure, can’t have kids coming from behind to grab his tail, etc. and I can control their access to him. Learning to take treats from strangers (with your permission) is a good skill to have. He is old enough to sit, down, wait, etc. to earn the treats. I think impulse control is pretty important for puppies to learn from the get go, especially ones who will be used in therapy.

It is important to know your dog well, and watch for signs of being over-faced with too much stimuli, especially when they go through the “fear phase” of development. Reducing exposure to whatever is stressing him and gradually reintroducing later is important. I think having some positive crate training will give him a place to go if he feels the need for a time out and just an overall good skill for any dog to have (not advocating long stretches in a crate, I might add, especially for a doodle.)

Patricia McConnell is a very good canine behaviorist, you may want to check out some of her writings.

Contact Terry Abell at: tabell@FSU.EDU

Jamie Neff  – I have worked with and trained dogs, horses, etc. for a long time and I recommend you take your pup ASAP. Take him to outings and anywhere to get him accustomed to people and traveling. The more your dog is around people and their special needs, the more accustomed he will become to them.

Not only does your pup need to interact with people, but you will find he will gravitate toward people with specific needs and will want to avoid people with other special needs. This is ok! They do not teach you these things in the “formal” trainings. I have been training animals for about 10 years. I have learned that all animals will gravitate toward people with different things going on. They have a specialty, so-to-speak. I have a dog that gets terrified and hides under the desk when people hallucinate in my office. I also have a dog that refuses to participate in nursing home ventures because she becomes too overwhelmed (she sniffs out people with pain, and the nursing home is just too much.)

So, start now “listening” to your pup. Encourage him to be curious and interact! He will teach you a wealth of information. And, by starting early around people and in training basic obedience, there is no need for formal training and extensive tricks unless your facility requires a certificate of completion for legal reasons. Instead, at our farm, we require all our volunteers to spend so much time in the herd or pack taking notes of how they communicate to each other. This is essential to training your dog, llama, sheep, horse, etc.

I would like to add some thoughts to the one who discussed desensitizing and socializing. We, too, rescue many of our pups and give them a purpose at the farm, in nursing homes, in the counseling practice, etc. However, I do not suggest adopting an adult dog and then going through the desensitizing process as outlined. There are many dogs with PTSD that become more fearful. It takes and experienced person with a lot of patience to adopt pets and then incorporate them into the public settings. The dog needs to learn he can trust you before you can begin desensitizing and socializing him. This is a must!!! Otherwise, he will become more fearful. Additionally, as you are patiently and carefully desensitizing  and socializing your adopted dog, tell others of any issues he has so they can be forewarned to any behavioral problems.  Adopting a dog is wonderful, but you have to be sensitive to its needs, challenges, fears, and encourage them often. Allowing them opportunities to build trust with you and be curious will enable them to grow in confidence. And, if the dog has been abused, it requires even more time and patience. The adopted pup is just as amazing as a new pup, and just as helpful and loving and nurturing! But, an adopted dog (or even pup) requires more patience to build trust and break down barriers before the trusting process can begin. You can’t skip this process or you hurt the true potential of your relationship with your dog.

Contact Jamie Neff: or e-mail or call 967-2865

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The Efficacy of Equine Assisted Group Counseling With At-Risk Children and Adolescents

Dr. Trotter’s PhD dissertation compares and contrasts the experiences of youngsters who participated in a 12-week equine assisted therapy program with those who remained in a classroom setting for traditional guidance counseling. The results proved that horse therapy gets authentic results in increasing positive behaviors in clients while decreasing undesirable responses.

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Equine Therapy—Treatment Manual

This comprehensive, step-by-step treatment manual provides Equine Assisted Counseling activities for each week along with objectives and detailed directions for clinical processing of the participants’ behaviors during each exercise.

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I volunteered to foster a beat-up rescued old black lab “for a few nights, until we find him a home.”

Guest Author – Jonna Rae Bartges is a creative catalyst, published author, college lecturer, business consultant and Emmy and Addy award-winning producer. When she is not writing as an ordained minister Jonna Rae strives to unite science and spirituality.

I’m not a dog person – I’ve always been more of the feline persuasion. So it was with more than a bit of trepidation back in February 2006 that I volunteered to foster a beat-up rescued old black lab “for a few nights, until we find him a home.”

Bear, as the elderly gent wanted to be known, immediately wrapped me around his paw, and patiently waited for me to figure out that he WAS home. The vet estimated his age as around 8 or 9, and said the dog had endured a tough life. From the moment he entered my world, Bear was my teacher, protector, guide and rock.

On a trip to Petsmart one time, a young woman confined to a wheelchair saw us come walking in, and her face lit up. Although she couldn’t speak, it was obvious she wanted to connect with Bear. My gentle giant walked up to her and rested his head on her knee. The woman shrieked in glee, and tried to pat his ebony forehead. Complete lack of muscular control turned her pats into rather hard strikes, but Bear didn’t budge – he just shut his eyes and let her hit him. Her joy brought tears to everyone watching the moving scene.

Bear usually rushed up to other dogs to lick their faces and socialize, until a particular time he stopped in his tracks when we encountered a woman with a Golden Retriever. Bear didn’t move a muscle, and the Golden walked over to him, sniffed him nose to tail, then licked his face. That was Bear’s signal to enthusiastically greet the other dog. Her owner was amazed, and said, “That’s the first time Goldie has let another dog near her since she went blind!” Bear KNEW. Gandhi Dog for sure.

Despite his huge appetite for life…and anything vaguely smelling edible…Bear was starting to slow down. A lab’s average lifespan is 12 years, and my guy was approaching 15. It was as if Bear knew I was going to need him with me through the soul-searing challenges of 2011 – a disastrous relationship, my father’s death, my mother’s terminal illness.

Bear’s hips periodically gave out on walks, and severe arthritis crippled his front legs. On occasion I’d have to lift him up stairs, or even into a standing position – no small feat with an 85-pound puppy.

In September he stopped eating for several days. When I lifted him up and took him outside to relieve himself, Bear would furiously dig “nests” under shrubs and painfully ease himself down into them. My vet said Bear was letting me know he was ready to go. Miraculously, he held in there for three more months, but by mid-December, there was no denying it was his time.

At the vet’s office, a dear friend held me while I held Bear. My beautiful boy gave a contented sigh, then gently entered into his final sleep. I sobbed all the way home, and went into the living room to pray. Suddenly I stopped crying to listen – I distinctly heard the jingle of his collar coming down the hallway towards me. I jumped up and ran to look. Of course, there was “nothing” there – but I was thrilled at this contact. Bear wasn’t done connecting just yet.

I turned to walk into the kitchen, and out of the corner of my eye I noticed something different on the refrigerator door. My fridge is my “art gallery,” with strands of magnetized beads holding up an ever changing array of cards and pictures. A beautiful sympathy card a friend sent when my little brother died a few years ago had a strand of beads circling the Native American proverb on the front: “They are not gone who live in our hearts.” Those beads had NOT been like that earlier that morning!

May your New Year be filled with the joy of knowing that love is forever, there are no barriers between realms, and nothing is too wonderful to be true.

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Thanksgiving Dinner Scraps for Your Dogs? Please Think Again

I know you love your dogs and want to share with them Holiday treats, but please be careful what you feed your best friend. Many of our “treats” are dangerous to them and there is nothing more devastating than to lose your pet especially if it could have been avoided.

I for one will never forget the cold winter night when that our beloved collie, Buck, died due to a “turned stomach” that was caused from giving him rich Thanksgiving dinner leftovers…and at the time we thought we were giving him a treat. Don’t make the same mistake I did and loose a beloved family member.

OKay so let’s talk turkey. Good news for Fido! ASPCA experts say a little bite of plain turkey is usually safe for pets. If you decide to share, remember: only boneless, well-cooked turkey is OK. Giving your pet undercooked or bone-in turkey, fat or gristle, or cooked bones for chewing is not OK. Some foods are totally off-limits to our furry pals.

Ten of them are especially common around the holidays. Just say no to.

  1. Rich or spicy foods
  2. Sage
  3. Chocolate
  4. Candy with xylitol
  5. Bread dough
  6. Batter with raw eggs
  7. Onions and garlic
  8. Macadamia nuts
  9. Raisins and grapes
  10. Alcohol
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The Gift of the Animal Human Bond

I am honored to have this moving blog post by Laura Hickman. Be sure to have some kleenex close by as she opens a door and invites you in to her childhood. A childhood filled with some very painful memories, and how an abandoned horse galloped through Laura’s life, giving her confidence, courage, and passion – Laura Hickman lives in Linden, VA and is a home school mom of 4 children, aged 6-12. She is an aspiring Equine Specialist and hopes to have her own farm in the near future.

Laura and Poppins

I loved my Dad.  We did a lot together while my mom studied to become a nurse.  He would pick me up from childcare, make my special bread so I wouldn’t be embarrassed at school (I had severe allergies), and take me fishing.  We’d watch TV together while I put lotion on his forearms where the Marine Corp tattoos had been removed.  We even had a stash of Pringles secreted away under the front seat of his VW Bug.  We were inseparable!

Unfortunately, by the time I was 7, my parents were battling their way through a not-so-nice divorce when my father, instead of taking me to school as planned, kidnapped me.  His hope was that my mother would become so distraught that she would commit suicide.  The only details I remember of the days I was in hiding are the fact that I had a stuffed Snoopy toy, and that my mother swooped in to rescue me as I was making mud pies in the backyard.  It was then that fear entered my heart.  Fear of being left, and fear of being kidnapped again.

Six years later, in 1983, my mom remarried.  We moved to a new house and I, to a new school.  Moving and attending a new school were positive experiences for me, having a step-father was not.

My step-father was a very bright man who had escaped from Hungary, a country behind the Iron Curtain, with nothing but a sandwich in his pocket and the clothes on his back.  Within 10 months of arriving in the United States, he had learned enough English at Georgetown University to be accepted into an Engineering program at the University of Wisconsin.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before it became apparent that he was dealing with severe psychological issues which he was no longer able to suppress successfully.  In 1986, he was diagnosed with depression, and Paranoid Schizophrenia, shortly before taking his own life.  His bursts of anger and the yelling that ensued were frightening.  I didn’t want to be at home, yet I felt that I needed to be home to protect my mom.  His anger was not limited to yelling – on separate occasions he pinned my mom on the floor, threw a drink at her, and disconnected the garage door openers so we couldn’t get in the house.  Another time, he accused me of slamming a door in his face.  In my minds’ eye I can still see him entering his room when I slammed the door, but that didn’t prevent him from breaking down the door and striking me across the face.  He refused to repair the shattered door frame for several months, wanting me to remember my offense, and the subsequent punishment.

It was during this time that Poppins came into my life.  She was a 26-year-old mare that had been abandoned by an owner that could no longer afford to keep her.  She had been fed, but not much else.  Each night was spent in a tiny standing stall with so much manure that she was forced to stand facing downhill.  Despite her discomfort from severe thrush and an unseasonably long coat, she was a gentle teacher who never lost her patience with my ignorance.  She gave me so much more than riding lessons.  Her gifts to me were confidence, courage, and passion.  And she had the best ear of any counselor.   I could pour out my heart to her without fear of what she thought, or that she would report back to my mom.  She wouldn’t leave me and she loved me despite all she knew about me.

Helen Thompson once said, “In riding a horse, we borrow freedom.”  There could not be a truer statement for me.  Riding was my avenue of escape and healing.  It gave me confidence, and made me feel strong, both mentally and physically.

Without Poppins, and the horses that galloped through my life after her, I would not be the person I am today.  There is not a doubt in my mind that horses kept me from the drugs, crime and promiscuity that snare so many others with similar experiences.

Poppins is the very definition of a hero!  She selflessly carried me and shared her friendship, happy only in my companionship and attention, and all despite her pain.  I didn’t know it then, but as my horse knowledge has increased, I see now that she probably suffered from Cushing’s and Chronic Laminitis.

I’ve always known that I loved Poppins, but I never realized until writing this blog just how deep her impact really was.  It has taken me several months to finish these few paragraphs…I had to stop and grieve my loss of her.  I found out this year that the owner of the barn had offered to sell her to my mom and step dad for $100, but they turned her down.  Instead, she went to a girl who thought it was a good idea to call me and brag that Poppins was no longer my friend, but hers.  I have never forgotten that call.

That call was the last I ever heard about Poppins.  I don’t know how much longer she lived, or where they might have buried her.  I wish I could kiss her sweet muzzle just one more time…

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How Bishop, a Golden Retriever, helped Karen feel safe

Guest AuthorDaniella San Martin-Feeney is the Program Coordinator for Chimo Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT). Chimo AAT is a non-profit initiative based in Edmonton, Canada, which facilitates the implementation of AAT programs in health and social service facilities, as well as schools.  Their focus is on mental health, and their mission is to facilitate the use of animals to help those in need.

Daniella’s second Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) case study shows how AAT can benefit the therapist-client relationship, and set the stage for optimal healing.  It also takes place in an office.

Case Study 2



In order for therapy to be successful, clients need to feel they are in a safe environment.  The client must trust their therapist before they can talk openly about their personal thoughts and experiences.  The importance of this point is demonstrated by a recent experience Terry Wilton had with a client. Terry’s client, who we will call Karen, is a victim of sexual abuse. Karen was very apprehensive about being alone in an office with a male psychologist. The following comments from Terry and Karen demonstrate how Bishop, Terry’s canine partner, helped Karen feel safe:

Karen – Having the dog here makes me feel more comfortable about being in a closed room with the therapist. I enjoy Bishop being in the room.  It makes me feel a lot better, more safe. I feel like I can express myself more when Bishop is here. I like coming to these sessions, and Bishop makes it a lot easier for me to be here. The animals really help! I recommend that every therapy session be done with an animal.

Terry – Having Bishop present made the client feel very much safer and able to tolerate being in a closed room as a female with a male therapist. This is a MAJOR benefit! Bishop play[s] a very important role of both comfort and distraction…[Sometimes] when [Karen comes] to a session she [is] very distressed. Focusing on Bishop allow[s] us to move out of that distress so we [can] come back to the issues at a decreased level of emotional intensity. The client is more relaxed and able to work in therapy when she is sitting on the floor with Bishop beside her…[she] spends the entire session petting Bishop and having close physical contact with him while we talk. [Karen] is more able now to move forward and talk through the things she needs to. We are establishing a greater therapeutic alliance as therapy continues.

Taken From: Comment section from Client and Therapist Chimo Project Questionnaires (2002), as published in Improving Health Through Animal Assisted Therapy. L. Urickuk with Dennis Anderson. 2003.

Visit Daniella at Chimo Animal Assisted Therapy web page:

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Animal Assisted Therapy Case Study: Sam and a therapy horse named Rosie

Guest AuthorDaniella San Martin-Feeney is the Program Coordinator for Chimo Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT). Chimo AAT is a non-profit initiative based in Edmonton, Canada, which facilitates the implementation of AAT programs in health and social service facilities, as well as schools.  Their focus is on mental health, and their mission is to facilitate the use of animals to help those in need.

Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) in its many shapes and forms, can have such an important therapeutic benefit.  AAT can beneficial to clients with diverse goals, and it can take place in diverse settings.  Here is the first of two case studies taken from Chimo Animal Assisted Therapy’s first manual, “Improving Mental Health Through Animal-Assisted Therapy”, by Liana Urichuk with Dennis Anderson.

The first case study shows the role animals can have in helping a client draw analogies between therapy sessions and their day-to-day life.  This case study doesn’t take place in an office, but on a farm!

Case Study 1


Sam is small for his eight years. His parents described him as a good student, outgoing with lots of friends; that was, until he moved schools last year. Since then his grades have plummeted, no friends come round for supper anymore, and Sam rarely says a word; except to beg his Mom not to make him go to school each morning. Sam refuses to talk with the school counselor, his teacher, or with the play therapist his parents took him to see. Sam’s parents are at their wit’s end. They desperately want their son back, but Sam won’t tell them what is wrong, and the only living being he seems to trust is Benji, his pet guinea pig. Seeing this connection, Sam’s parents take him to a place they’d heard about through their church; a place where they help kids through animals. This is where I meet Sam. I’m working with an Animal Assisted Therapy program in Arizona, and Sam is my newest client.

Sam stands slightly behind his Dad, looking at the ground. He looks scared. I gently explain that there are lots of animals here who would really like to meet Sam, if he wants to. Sam nods tentatively. As we explore the farm and meet first with the smaller animals, Sam starts to talk. First with the dogs and the goats, and then, very quietly, he tells me that he has a guinea pig at home called Benji, and that Benji is his best friend.

In our next session, Sam asks to see the horses. He notices Rosie, standing by herself. ‘She looks lonely’ says Sam, ‘can we bring her in?’. Once in the corral I show Sam how to do a ‘join up’ with Rosie. Sam spends time talking with Rosie and rubbing her, then gently asks her to move away from him. Through this process Rosie decides that Sam is someone to be trusted and respected, so when Sam walks around the corral Rosie follows. When Sam, with a gentle hand on her rose, asks Rosie to back away, she takes a few steps back. As he runs circles in the corral with Rosie trotting at his heel, Sam starts to laugh, and for the first time I see a glimmer of the boy his parents described: confident, happy, and in charge. Leading Rosie back to the field Sam looks me directly in the eye:

“Rosie is so big and I’m so small, but she did what I asked her to do!”

It is then that Sam starts to tell me about the kids at school, situations when he felt very small: the bullying. With Rosie’s help, Sam’s self confidence gradually returned, he talked to his parents and teacher, and together they found ways to address the bullying at their school.

Taken from: McIntosh, S. (2001, Dec.). Four legged therapists reach children in need. Synchronicity. Sue McIntosh has shared much knowledge and expertise with the Chimo Project. Her contributions are gratefully acknowledged.  As published in Improving Health Through Animal Assisted Therapy. L. Urickuk with Dennis Anderson. 2003.

Daniella’s next post on will feature a second case study that shows how a canine named Bishop set the stage for optimal healing.

Visit Daniella at Chimo Animal Assisted Therapy web page:

Check our her blog at:

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