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Animal Assisted

 BY Nicole Klimas

Using animals in the therapy process adds another dimension to what can be done during a half-hour therapy session. Animals, particularly dogs and horses, heighten motivation and relaxation and are a great reinforcer. Dogs are an excellent example of the value that an animal adds to therapy In the Speech and Hearing Center at the University of Al­abama-Tuscaloosa, Beth Macauley, PhD CCC‑SLP, uses her therapy dog in sessions with clients. Dr. Macauley and her dog are certified pet partners from the Delta Society. They have worked together visiting hospitals and nursing homes and providing therapy for over a year.

When working with children on location words and prepositions, Dr. Macauley uses the dog to illustrate those words. She may have a child tell the dog to go under a chair while she makes the dog sit beside the chair. She then asks whether or not the dog did what he was supposed to do, thus fostering communication.   Dr. Macauley also may read a book with a child and have the child act out the story with the dog.  For those children who are more reticent about talking or have problems with expressive language, she has them address the dog, telling him things and giving him commands. There is nothing more motivating o a child than when the dog responds, according to Dr. Macauley.

High‑functioning children with autism benefit from the use of a dog in speech and language therapy as well. For instance, the goal of one of her young patients is to increase his eye contact and expressive speech output.

"When we brought the dog in, the boy's goal was to first gain eye contact with him and give him commands," she told ADVANCE. "He couldn't give the dog commands unless he had eye contact. Once he had eye contact and said the commands, the dog would do it. That was a great reinforcer for him.” Dr. Macauley then began to work on the child's expressive output".

"He had to talk to us about the dog and describe the dog to us, such as what the dog likes to do and what he did with the dog that day," she said. "He would tell other people or his mom what he did with the dog during the session, which got him to initiate interaction with other people."

Hippotherapy describes therapy done with a horse. Dr. Macauley is in the process of working out an agreement with a riding stable in Tuscaloosa to run a hippotherapy program.

"The fun thing about hippotherapy is that you can use the three‑dimensional movements of the horse to actually stimulate the neuromuscular system of the person who's on it," she said. "It relaxes spastic muscles and allows greater range of movement and more normalization of movement for physical therapy It does that with the respiratory and speech muscles so we can get better vocalizations, sometimes improved articulation, better breath support and better voice quality."

  In addition, "the use of horses in therapy adds a motivating factor to the sessions," Dr. Macauley said. Clients are "much more motivated to come. They're more on task and more attentive to the session."

 Other animals can be introduced into the therapy process as well. For instance, cats are a relaxing component and encourage discussion in a therapy session.


Four legged assistants provide added motivation

Dr. Macauley has used cats in the nursing home environment with patients.' e did a lot of reminiscing, going through picture books and talking about their own animals," she said of the residents. "They may not have been as open to talk about it if the cat wasn't there. "Animals can be used in a variety of environments and with varying disorders. "It's just a matter of being creative, sitting down and looking at your client's goals, and saying, 'OK, how can I incorporate the dog, the horse or the cat?"' she said. the first step in introducing animals into therapy is to obtain certification through the Delta Society, an organization based in Renton, WA, with the mission of improving human health through the use of therapy animals. Certification is achieved by completing a home study course.

 "You learn the rules and regulations for using animals with disabled people as well as how to maintain quality assurance and strict safety," Dr. Macauley explained. Clinicians should take the information they learned through the certification process, present it to their supervisor or facility; and ask for approval to use a certified animal with clients. In making this request, it should be emphasized that animals are not used for play but are integrated into the therapy session.

  Beth Macauley, PhD, Department of Communicative Disorders, University of Alabama‑Tuscaloosa, Box 870242; Tuscaloosa, AL 35487; (205) 348‑0453; e‑mail: 

Nicole Klimas is assistant editor of ADVANCE.

April 2, 2001 O  advance for Speech‑Language Pathologists &  Audiologists                                                          



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