Animal-Assisted Interventions as a Learning Aid – A Literature Review

Animal-assisted interventions (AAI) on learning and mental health is an evolving matter within psychology. In past history, such mediations have been held to ridicule by scholars who deemed animals to be insignificant within the field. Today, the American Humane Association postulates that the objective of AAI is a goal-directed movement, used to improve one’s “social, cognitive or emotional functioning” (Ganzert, 2013). “Animal- assisted Intervention” is an umbrella term for what is traditionally known as animal-assisted therapy (AAT), animal-assisted activities (AAA), and animal-assisted education (AAE). This paper seeks to provide a comprehensive review of extant empirical research on AAI as a tool to enhance children’s learning outcomes.

By Robyn Lawes

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Human Animal Relationship: A Source of Wellbeing and a Therapeutic Catalytic Tool

The aim of this study was to better understand the general beliefs and attitudes toward companion animals in Puerto Rico. This relationship becoming a possible source of wellbeing and a therapeutic catalytic tool in our participant life’s. Data was collected using an auto- administered questionnaire developed by the authors. The target populations of this survey were Puerto Rican residents, aged at least over 21 years. The total data collected was a total of 1,327 responses. The results shows that 84% of the participants indicated they have an animal companions in their home, only 16% said they have none. Almost 82% participants currently have a total of 4 (mean = 3.8) animal companions. The majority (39%) of the participants indicated that they spend 12 hours or more with their companion animals. Concerning activities with their companion animal’s participants said that they stroked (94%), played (92%), talked (89%) and walked (57%) their companion animals. Concerning the human animal bond, participants rated their companion animals as extremely important (72%), very important (24%), neutral (4%), not that important (0.4%), and not important (0.1%). They also rated their companion animals as family members (99%). The results of this study align with other research on the topic that show that human animal interaction enhance and facilitate positive traits in us (Hediger and Turner, 2014). This in turn becomes a fundamental opportunity in the work of counseling psychology within the context of psychotherapy to create more effective interventions and take into account a very important relationship in the participant’s life. Companion animals should become part of the factors we consider when working and developing therapeutic plans for our participants (Thew, Marco, Erdman and Caro, 2015).

By Úrsula Aragunde Kohl

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Past Experience Influences the Social Behavior of Cows (Bos taurus) and Pigs (Sus scrofa) in the Sanctuary Setting

The long-term effects of early traumatic experiences in humans and some nonhuman animals are well documented. This study explored the role of a past history on the social behavior of cows and pigs in the sanctuary setting. Subjects were cows (N=8) and pigs (N = 10) housed at the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary. The researchers recorded all social behavior amongst conspecifics and categorized behavior as either affiliative or agonistic. Social behavior was compared amongst animals divided into groups according to their previous setting (beef vs. dairy cows, free range vs. intensively farmed vs. neglected pet pigs). In both species, affiliation behavior showed clear differences based on past experience. Beef cows were significantly more affiliative than cows kept for dairy. Pigs raised in free-range settings showed significantly more affiliation than pigs from intensive farms or neglected pets, with the latter two groups showing no affiliation at all. Altogether, these results show a link between past experience and later social behavior, emphasizing the potential for both of these farmed species to experience long term psychological impacts as the result of traumatic experiences in the early settings they are placed in by humans.

By Larisa Schuckle and Malini Suchak

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The Use of Animal-Assisted Interventions in Social Services: A Literature Synthesis

The field of Animal-Assisted Interventions (AAI’s) is emerging and developing steadily, however the available literature which addresses this field is limited. This literature synthesis includes 27 articles from this limited pool and addresses what AAI programs exist, how they are being studied, and what the results of these studies are. This synthesis identifies characteristics of current AAI programs, and the methods being used to assess them, and groups findings from all 27 articles thematically. Findings suggest that AAI’s help participants in developing life skills, improve their desire to attend and participate in the intervention, support feelings of non-judgement and the generation of trust within the therapeutic relationship, help to alleviate a variety of symptoms, and are typically cost efficient. Findings also indicate the potential for AAI’s to improve participants levels of sociability and self-esteem but these findings are not consistent across studies. Finally, a number of questions and areas for further research are identified, which will support continued development, and improve effectiveness of these interventions.

By Rebecca Sheluk

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A Narrative Review of Qualitative and Quantitative Research in Equine-assisted Social Work or Therapy – Addressing Gaps and Contradictory Results

This article reviews the published literature narrative about equine-assisted or equine-facilitated social work or therapy, a growing area of interventions. The purpose is to shed light on gaps and contradictory results in previous studies between 2000-2014. The goal is to assist practitioners and researchers, identifying and providing perspectives on complicated issues when results of interventions are pointing in different directions. In total, 55 published articles and 15 dissertations were analyzed thematically. Excluded are studies focused on therapeutic riding for the physically disabled or hippotherapy benefiting from equine movement, as well as studies focused on individuals’ riding goals or horsemanship skills. The implications for further research address gaps in the literature on the process in equine assisted or facilitated work. The process need to be described from professional affiliation, the purpose of the intervention, theoretical perspective, the intended role of the horse, ethical approach both concerning the client and the horse, plan to prevent risks as well as describe risks in relation to possible outcomes both for the client and the horse and finally a description about how the intervention are evaluated. Standardization of terminology and language used to communicate interventions, methods, and theories is recommended. The analysis suggests a need to use a variety of research methods in interdisciplinary research groups. This allows different paradigms of participatory, as well as constructivism or post-positivism, to capture the complexity of social work or therapy facilitated or assisted by horses. This article does not critically review each specific investigation, but focuses on how the process has been presented in previous research.

By Catharina Carlsson

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Photo by G. Hjortryd

Three Poems: Somatic Sympathy; Raising Meat Birds; Fish in a Barrel

These poems explore moments when animal-human intersections raise questions about the continuity of animal ethics and perspectival compassion. Considering topics from hunting, fishing, and raising meat birds as choices, the poems offer insights into the imposed obligations of vulnerable populations as well as the legitimacy of anthropocentric choices and preferences.

By E.F. Schraeder

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Film Review: Bestiaire (2012, Zeitgeist Films)

Physiologus, one of the most popular books of the Middle Ages, was a predecessor of bestiaries. The focus of bestiaires is not on accuracy, but rather using mythical creatures to convey legends or teach moral tales (Theobald, 1928; Curley, 1979). A new incarnation of these historical texts is brought to life in Bestiaire, a film by Denis Côté. The mythical animals that filled the pages of the book have now been replaced by sentient beings occupying a Canadian safari park. Insight into these different ways of being is captured through the lens of the director. The lack of narration throughout this film heightens the experience for the viewers. Interactions between non-human and human animals occur around feeding and maintenance of the park, medical attention, or simple observations. Although there are scenes of a taxidermist and some artists, the majority of the time follows the animals at a Québec safari park through the changing seasons. Visitors swarm to the park in the summer, but much of the film focuses on the isolated lives of the inhabitants during the other seasons of the year. These stark contrasts force the viewers to ask: Who benefits from this park?

By Karen Dalke

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Invisible Geographies: Violence and Oppression in the Prison Industrial Complex and Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations

Nowhere is the act of violence more complete, sustained, and systematically codified than in the Prison Industrial Complex (PIC). Through overt physical domination, the psychological and bodily control of inmates is maintained. Lobbying by the private prison industry and the war on drugs and terror have fueled the increase in the United States prison population and have contributed to the commodification and objectification of inmate bodies. Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) perpetuate violence in organized and efficient ways. The commodified animal body—controlled through confinement, restriction, and pain—systemically parallels the treatment of inmate bodies. Just as the PIC maintains itself though lobbying efforts, law, and manipulation of public opinion, CAFOs have relied on lobbying efforts, deregulation, and profiteering to fuel growth. Central to these industries is the invisibility of their operations. Both of them rely on a “post regulatory” systematized objectification of bodies, the visceral nature of which would be publicly inflammatory, and thus detrimental to economic profit. Therefore, these industries have created hidden geographies that conceal their physical locations and processes while at the same time normalizing the notion that Americans need prisons to stay safe and meat to stay healthy. This article discusses the historical development of these industries and examines the meta-structures that sustain them in order to highlight the violent and oppressive social, political, and economic structures and forces behind the treatment of inmate and animal bodies.

By Richard Merritt and Scott Hurley

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Intentional Shared Suffering: A Comparative Analysis of Varied Pig Production Methods in a University Setting

We extend the notion of shared suffering first articulated by Donna Haraway (2008), and developed by Jocelyne Porcher (2011) to suggest that while shared suffering is unintentional in production environments, an ethic of intentionality should be employed. Intentional shared suffering evolves when individuals are given the infrastructure and opportunity to openly embrace the bonds they create with the production animals they work with. We apply and compare this framework in two pig/swine production facilities: an organic farm and a confined feeding operation both operated by a major research university to identify what contributes to unintentional and intentional shared suffering at each facility. Following three years of participant observation and interviews within both facilities, our findings clearly demonstrate that environment; shared interests among members; and leadership all contribute to an ethic of intentional shared suffering. Surprisingly, we also find that the cross-pollination of the two programs/environments facilitated community development, teaching/learning and research opportunities.

By Cameron T. Whitley, Seven Mattes, and Rachel Kelly

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Anthrozoology and Anthropomorphic Poetic Expression

Talking about animals is always an act of appropriation. Expressed through another’s written ideas, thoughts, imaginings, biased observations, interpretations, and recordings, without awareness of their own status as a point of focus, the nonhuman animal is utterly subaltern, an object possessed and manipulated, where even natural behavior only occurs as permitted and portrayed by the author.

By Peggy Moran

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