Animal Assisted Interventions with Animal Abusers

There is much debate about the use of Animal Assisted Interventions (AAI) with persons who have harmed an animal in their past or as even the index offense.  This issue generates diverse and often emotional reactions from the human-animal interactions field. The debate is understandable because on one hand we have no greater responsibility in the facilitation of animal assisted interventions than to ensure the physical and psychological well-being of the animals and the human participants. On the other there appears to be a good potential of reaching individuals with a history of conduct problems and anti-social behavior through the direct incorporation of animals into their treatment plan, conversely we have a responsibility to never place an animal in a situation that could result in intentional abuse.

Through the use of accurate evaluation and assessment we can make careful determinations about which individuals might benefit from  and AAI intervention. Animal abuse often occurs under specific circumstances. Some who abuse animals can be taught new attitudes and ways of interaction with animals. A well-planned Animal Therapy program  or humane education program with adequate supervision can reliable protect and advocate for the animal and in turn use the overt advocacy as an opportunity to have the individual reinvestigate their own issues of safety, personal responsibility, empathy and attachment. If safety for the animal and persons involved can be not be aassured than it is not appropriate to include animals.

A key finding that has surfaced from studies of youth’s cognition is that learning occurs best in the context of successful experiences rather than experiences of failure. This discovery implies that learning can be more productive when teaching approaches and activities are designed to ensure youth’s achievement. Additional research is needed to determine which types of AAI and humane education experiences are linked to critical periods of development. Such information is critical to consider when designing animal-assisted interventions with at risk youth, such as those who have endured abuse or neglect. While research on this subject is limited, existing findings show that the human-animal bond is a powerful force that has the capacity to effect meaningful change when used appropriately. Animal cruelty and the abusive behaviors is also a feature of the human-animal connection. These abuse behaviors are found pathologically imbedded with other human cruelty problems. The new models and methods for intervention must recognize both sides of the human-animal connection, protecting both people and animals but to also seeing the potential to utilize animals in therapeutic settings and channel these interventions to help our individuals connect with themselves, each other, and the world at large.