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Hi there – You're in the right place, but what used to be here is no longer available. Don't worry though, if you're interested in animal-assisted therapy, we can point you to some good places to visit, right here on this page. Give 'em a quick look before you go!

Alternative Websites You Should Check Out

Tails Magazine's List of AAT Practitioners in the Twin Cities

Tails is more than just a pet magazine – they're about people who are passionate about animals and connect the animal welfare community to pet lovers everywhere. Check out their list of animal-assisted therapy resources in the Twin Cities, and connect with them on Facebook and Twitter.

North Star Therapy Animals

North Star Therapy-Animals is a volunteer organization of people who are passionate about animal therapy and the benefits it brings to the community and everyone involved. Learn more about therapy animals, services available, and how you can participate. You can also find them on Facebook.

CentraCare Health – Animal-Assisted Therapy Services

CentraCare Health is a not-for-profit health care provider with resources for animal-assisted therapy services. Get a quick overview of the benefits, learn more about what's involved, and see how you can participate. You can also find CentraCare on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, and on YouTube.

TherapyPets.com's List of Practitioners in Minnesota

TherapyPets.com is psychologist and author Jackie Crawford's website, which lists practitioners, facilities, organizations, and educational resources related to animal-assisted therapy. You can also check out her book “Therapy Pets: The Animal-Human Healing Partnershipon Amazon.

Bark Avenue on Parade

Bark Avenue on Parade is a non-profit, all-volunteer organization dedicated to promoting and providing animal-assisted therapy to those in the community who are in need of it. They operate in the Minneapolis and St. Paul areas of Minnesota, providing regularly scheduled visits, events, and additional programs for area hospitals, nursing homes, and senior residences.

News

What Does a Parrot Know About PTSD?

The New York Times' Charles Siebert's feature-length article explores the surprising insights revealed when an unexpected bond between damaged birds and traumatized veterans develops.

Horse Therapy Could Help People Cope With Early-Onset Dementia

Stanford Medicine's Holly MacCormick writes about the Connected Horse Project, and the potential benefits of equine therapy for sufferers of early-stage dementia.

Doctoring Dogs: Animal-Assisted Therapy Aids Area Hospital Patients

Read and watch Jessica Bringe's report on the surprising benefits of the animal-assisted therapy program at the HSHS Sacred Heart.

Doug the Pug Finds His Niche as a Therapy Dog: An Interview with Cate Archer

HABRI Central’s Katie Carroll writes about the exploits of Doug the Pug and his owner Cate Archer, as they work tirelessly to bring joy, companionship and support to both children and the elderly alike.

Max the Wheaten Terrier

Read all about how Max - an unlikely therapy dog candidate - won over the hearts and minds of children and adults.

Animal Assisted Therapy – The Enjoyable Therapeutic Experience Every Healing Center Should Provide

Now becoming increasingly popular, more and more people are finding out about how Animal Assisted Therapy can be one of the most pleasant and effective therapeutic methods for treating a variety of conditions.

“Animal Assisted Therapy” is the name, and improving an individual’s social, emotional and cognitive functions is the game. But while this tool is arguably one of the most enjoyable therapeutic experiences a patient can go through, its origin is a very interesting story in itself.

Rumor has it that in olden times, our ancestors would revere and even worship some animals for their supernatural powers and mystifying auras. Said admiration would translate into a deep respect for all animals. Some hunter-gatherers even mirrored certain animals’ methods of hunting to improve their own game. The birth of Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) was considered to have happened in these times, where our predecessors would observe animals and use their observations to improve their own lives. Of course, these claims are only unfounded rumors, with little to no evidence to sustain them.

Beginnings

The first recorded use of AAT was actually a lot closer to our time, late in the eighteenth century, at the York Retreat in England. The patients at the facility were allowed to wander in the yard, where there were also a few domestic animals. The effect of the animals on the patients were astounding, as they felt more at ease; the presence of the creatures helped the patients socialize. Soon enough, other hospitals and health centers followed suit, and started adding animals to yards and common grounds, which were a tremendous help in boosting the morale of the staff and their patients.

Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, frequently let his Chow Chow into his office while treating his patients, as the dog’s presence would have a reassuring effect on them, which in turn would help them relax and open up more. This was especially true for adolescent or younger patients.

Nowadays, there are different theories that aim to explain why the presence of animals in health centers, retirement homes, and domestic households has such a positive effect on the people that both work and live there. One of the most popular theories is the Biophilia Hypothesis.

Biophilia and Animal-Assisted Therapy

"Biophilia" is the term used to refer to the instinctive bonds that all living beings have with each other. The word biophilia literally means “love of life”, although the author of the theory, Edward O. Wilson, described it as the “urge to affiliate with other forms of life”.

But Wilson was by no means the first person to use the term, although he was responsible for its current meaning and its popularization, via his book Biophilia (published in 1984). Aristotle used to dabble in biophilia centuries before Wilson was even born, or before the term itself was coined. He (Aristotle) used to speak about the reciprocity of all things, including human relations, and he would go to lengths to explain that in a friendship, both parties would benefit in more than one way, especially in terms of happiness. Erich Fromm also gave an early definition of biophilia before Wilson’s definitive version; Fromm firmly believe that there was a driving force that would attract us to all living things. Last but not least, Edward Wilson’s concept was the one that stuck and was popularized by him: he said that biophilia described the “connections that human beings subconsciously seek with the rest of life”, and he also added that “said affiliations are rooted deep within our biology”.

So we can safely say that – according to Wilson – biophilia is a product of biological evolution, as a means of ensuring our continued survival as a species. For example, adult mammals (not just humans) are drawn, generally attracted to baby mammals. The large eyes of the babies are more appealing to them than their adult counterparts. This attraction has helped increase the survival rate among all species of mammals in the animal kingdom, including our own as the dominant species.

It is this very attraction, or biophilia, that makes animal-assisted therapy possible. Since we have been depending on other animals for our safety and survival for centuries, we have also learned to fraternize with, even love them as if they were our very own siblings or children. Biophilia suggests that if we own an animal and let them live in our household, their very presence can alter our moods. If we have a dog that is constantly barking, running around, breaking things, and being a general nuisance, then we will be predominantly angry or frustrated. However - and this is the important part - if we manage to train that dog to be constantly calm, cool and collected, his inner peace will spread across the house, and moods around the house in general will improve.

So you see, biophilia is the cornerstone of animal-assisted therapy, since without said attraction to living things, the moods and interactions of our furry friends would have no effect on us.

The Different Kinds of Animal-Assisted Therapy

With that being said, I would like to end this article with a short list of the different types of AAT. I personally feel that when someone mentions this method, most people will believe that the only animals capable of lending their calming presence are dogs, and this could not be further from the truth. As a matter of fact, there are a wide variety of animals that can be employed in AAT, all with different purposes and effects:

  • Canine Therapy: the most common type of animal used in AAT. Dogs are especially useful when dealing with emotionally troubled people, both children and adults alike. The dog’s ability to empathize, its high energy and small size allows them to create a safe relationship with their patients, where the afflicted can lower their guard and feel at ease.
  • Equine Therapy: Despite their size and intimidating (to some) demeanor, horses are very gentle animals and can have quite the therapeutic effect, especially in patients with particular physical or mental disabilities. The way horses walk is very similar to our own method, so allowing a physically handicapped person ride on a horse can benefit his or her body, not to mention the psychological benefits that bonding with a horse can provide. The fact that the patient has a thousand-pound animal between his legs obeying his commands can work wonders on his self-esteem and trust issues. There is a variant of equine therapy where donkeys are used instead of horses; although the principle is the same, donkeys can be less intimidating for smaller persons, such as in the case of teens or smaller children.
  • Dolphin Therapy: This method of therapy has been increasing in popularity in Europe. And although it is much shorter (around 2 weeks maximum), dolphins can really have a positive impact on patients. This type of therapy is best suited to treating excess stress and improving a person’s overall health.
  • Other types of animals: Cats are a welcome addition to the team of therapeutic animals. Although they have to be thoroughly trained to wear a harness and leash all the time (like most therapeutic animals), they can achieve certain things that a dog wouldn’t be able to. For instance, some dogs are too big to sit on an elderly person’s lap, and this is where cats shine most. Other animals commonly used in AAT are rabbits and birds, though they would also have to be trained to wear a leash and vest at all times. Fish are also quite therapeutic. In short, any small animal that can be domesticated is a prime candidate for AAT. After all, any type of animal can make a clinical building feel more like home, so they’re all welcome additions.

Of course, this is only a small sampling of the wide variety of therapeutic animals out there. There are no limits to which animals can help others to improve their lives; as long as they can be domesticated and have the right temperament, they're more than welcome to help.


About the author: Juan López is a freelance writer living in Venezuela, offering all sorts of writing services to any interested parties. You may contact him through his personal email wirch007@gmail.com, or on Facebook @wirch007.