Coming under the umbrella of “pet therapy,” animal visitation can either be Animal-Assisted Activities (AAA) for general visitation by a therapy animal or Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT), during which animals and their owners/handlers work with a human health service provider or other professional as an adjunct to traditional therapies. AAA is a more spontaneous type of visit without an official plan for the get-together. A client may pet and coo over the dog. It’s a kind of environmental enrichment for the one visited as well as for the dog (and you).
AAT may require a dog who’s somewhat more trained, or trainable. In this type of visit, the therapy is planned out in advance, and the visit — and results — are documented by a professional. For instance, veterinary nurse Debra Gibbs’s shih tzu, Boo, works with a physical therapist at a public school who’s helping a young boy with mobility challenges. The boy doesn’t have the upper body strength to walk in a traditional walker, so he has to use his legs to propel himself along in a harness on wheels.
“He hates this particular part of his school day,” Ms. Gibbs says, but he takes Boo for a walk with a leash attached to his walker (and a shorter leash held by Ms. Gibbs during the exercise) and points out various places in the school to her — the offices, the library, etc. “It changes the exercise from something he just has to get through to something that’s more fun,” Ms. Gibbs says. “He’s generally able to go farther when working with the dog, and through the course of the year, his physical therapist has documented a great improvement — attributing a big piece of that to his being able to stroll along with Boo.”
Not all dogs are able to be that cooperative. You’ll want to decide whether AAA or AAT is right for your pet.