‘Animal Assisted Activities (AAA) provides opportunities for motivational, educational, recreational, and/or therapeutic benefits to enhance quality of life’.

Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) is a goal-directed intervention in which an animal, that meets specific criteria, is an integral part of the treatment processes. (Definitions as per www.deltasociety.org)

There is very little difference between the therapeutic value of AAA and AAT except to say that AAA is a relaxed and informal process whereas AAT is structured and specific.

Ethology is the study of animal behaviour, and a very big part of this study is the effect that companion animals and people have on each other. It is a well-documented fact that the human-animal bond is a profound one. The effect that companion animals and humans have on each other has been an area of research amongst professionals, mainly psychologists and psychiatrists, since virtually the turn of the 20th century. Humans and companion animals have the capacity of influencing each other’s lives positively, both on an emotional and physical level.

A symbiotic relationship exists between man and animal, and the effect they have on each other is remarkable. It is a proven fact that physical contact between humans and companion animals lowers blood pressure and pulse rates and releases the ‘feel good’ chemicals in the brain, thus helping to reduce stress levels in both parties, instilling calmness and relaxation. Many books in print today clearly illustrate the positive impact that companion and/or therapy animals have on the lives of compromised people.

The benefits of bringing man and companion animals together in a mutual healing relationship are numerous:

  • Companion Animals create a point of contact between people in a non-invasive manner i.e. a non-threatening environment.
  • The bond that people build with companion animals will help to fill the gaps that may exist in their own lives: e.g.: loneliness; anxiety; insecurity and/or inability to communicate.
  • Although the expression may have become a cliché, it very aptly describes exactly what companion animals offer their humans. Animals are and will accept all people without prejudice.
  • Animals are therapeautic, as people focus on the needs of their companion animal they become less caught up in their own emotional circumstances.
  • The people who come to ARROHHH will invariably be victims of abuse and/or suffer from depression, anxiety and stress. When they realise that the huskies they will be working with are also victims of abuse; neglect or abandonment, it will open the doorway to through mutual understanding.
  • Learning to become husky leaders will impact their lives by improving their self-confidence
  • The sense of achievement that they will experience when they see how they are positively influencing the lives of these animals will strengthen them
  • The ‘human victim’ suddenly becomes the ‘animal counsellor’, takes charge
  • The innate ability that animals have to create an atmosphere of unconditional love; forgiveness; non-judgement and empathy will help build a new emotional foundation of self-confidence and self-worth, and turn the victims into survivors, and ultimately leaders in their own lives.
  • To achieve the above objectives, the animals and humans do not have to spend many hard-working hours with each other. It has been found that just a half-hour session is sufficient to achieve a desired effect.

The practise of Animal Assisted Activities and Therapy has gained popularity, and has become a recognised form of therapy throughout the world today. Studies have been carried out to prove the value of these types of therapy, and accounts of successes in these fields are innumerable. The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) endorses the benefits of animal therapy with people suffering from Autism, PTSD and other conditions.

At this stage we are working with the rescue and rehabilitation of huskies only. It is our desire to use these rescued animals in AAA to reach out to people in need, from children in remedial settings to adults seeking individual counselling. I believe that while emotionally injured people are caring for, and working with abused or neglected animals, there will be a positive rebound effect on them. The feelings of unconditional love, acceptance, and the sense of achievement in re-socialising broken animals, will automatically open the gates to healing in their own lives.

There are several organisations around the country using horses or dogs in different animal assisted therapy settings. In KZN there are several horse orientated programs but no canine orientated animal assisted therapy programs that I am aware of. As a Registered Professional Nurse with trauma and psychiatric experience; and a Certified Animal Assisted Activity Professional, running a registered NPO Animal Welfare Rescue Organisation for Siberian Huskies, I believe I am well suited to offer this service.

Charnell J Ruth
Registered Professional Nurse (General, Psychiatry, Community) and Midwifery
Certified Animal Assisted Activity Professional