Human Animal Solutions

Animal-Assisted Therapy

You’ve seen or read about animals visiting hospitals and nursing homes, and you’ve probably heard the term “pet therapy.” You may be wondering what the fuss is about, or you may think that incorporating animal-assisted interactions into human services is a brilliant idea.


“Thank you for the great class today. I really learned a lot! I’m glad I didn’t depend on just reading the book. The biggest thing I learned is that we are not yet ready. But we are learning!”

The power of the relationship between animals and some people is undeniable. We have a history of linking people who are ill with nature: we bring plants and flowers to people who are sick in an effort to cheer them. It can be a natural next step to bring nature in the form of animals to help people heal.

Therapy animals can have a powerful, positive effect on patients/clients, staff, and visitors. You’ve seen people gravitate to the cat in a bookstore. You may have read about animal-assisted therapy in physical, occupational, or speech therapy. Animal-assisted interactions (AAI) are not restricted to physical rehabilitation, however. Counselors, educators, and other professionals can incorporate therapy animals into their sessions.

Example of Animal-Assisted Therapy


“Thank you for your time and gentleness with us today. Your time helping us all figure out how to do what we want is appreciated.”

Imagine an adolescent with behavior problems learning how to identify good things, not just things to complain about. Imagine him learning how to work with his anger because he doesn’t want to scare a dog or take it out on a dog. Through animal-assisted therapy sessions, the adolescent learns to change the way he interacts with his family because he learned new ways to relate to a dog, and his therapist helped him apply those new skills to his family.

Animal-assisted therapy (AAT) works with the relationship we have with the animals in our lives. This is what animal-assisted therapy is all about: incorporating trained, screened, and healthy animals into a client’s treatment plan to help the client meet specific goals.

There are lots of details involved in making such interactions safe. For more information about how to develop or implement an animal-assisted interactions program, learn about our consulting program


The Therapy Animal’s Bill of Rights©

As a therapy animal, I have the right to a handler who:

The Therapy Animal’s Bill of Rights is copyrighted with all rights reserved.  Reprinted by permission of the author, Ann R. Howie. Teaming with Your Therapy Dog (West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press, 2015), [page xvii]. © 2015 by Ann R. Howie.  If you are interested in reprinting the Therapy Animal’s Bill of Rights, please contact Ann at

Competency-Based Team Evaluations

At a recent training, I asked a group of 25 animal-assisted interactions (AAI) volunteers what they thought was the most important thing an evaluation should show.  Their responses almost invariably fell into these three categories:

In my conversations with AAI program coordinators, they also express a desire to have a clear and realistic idea of a team’s competence before sending them out to interact with clients.

Do current skills-based evaluations give this information?

Perhaps not!  Yet the vast majority of AAI groups and organizations in the U.S. rely on skills-based evaluations.  In a skills-based evaluation, handlers are cued to perform a certain behavior.  For example, the evaluator may say, “Show me that your dog knows how to sit.”

A handler’s ability to ask his dog to sit when cued says nothing about the handler’s ability to assess a situation and identify the advisability of asking his dog to sit before proceeding.  And the latter is what coordinators want and need to know about their teams.

The AAI field can benefit from a way of evaluating teams that is based on the team’s competence in dealing with the realities of visit dynamics rather than the ability to respond to cues.  We probably all recognize that a person’s ability to drive safely on a sunny, clear day on an interstate freeway does not necessarily translate into ability to drive safely in snowy, icy mountain passes.  How do we evaluate a team’s competence (ability to be safe and appropriate) in real visiting situations?

That tool exists:  competency-based team evaluations.

A skills-based team evaluation places animal-handler teams in situations that simulate real-world scenarios in real-world visiting environments.  Teams are asked to act the same way they would on a visit (rather than allow things to be done to them because it is a test).  For example, a handler might take a break as needed to get some water for his dog, set appropriate limits on interactions, and guide the flow of the visit.  The evaluation form is a learning tool, identifying areas of competence and giving guidance in areas for improvement.

Ann Howie will talk with you about the dynamics at the facilities you serve, then will design a competency-based team evaluation to meet your needs.  She will come to your location to train you and your staff/volunteers to effectively administer and interpret your competency-based team evaluation.  Contact us to talk with Ann about developing a competency-based team evaluation for your group or organization.


Information for Volunteer Handlers

More and more people are becoming aware of the therapeutic benefits of putting animals together with people in healthcare facilities. These animals are called therapy animals. Most therapy animals visit the facility periodically with their handler (they do not live at the facility). The handler is typically the owner. The interactions these animal-handler teams provide are properly called animal-assisted activities (AAA) or animal-assisted therapy (AAT), according to Standards of Practice in Animal-Assisted Activities & Therapy.

In addition to animal-assisted activities and therapy, there is also animal-assisted education, where animals are incorporated into students’ lesson plans to help them learn about concepts, math, history, etc. As a result of the many choices now found in animal-assisted work, a new term is being used to cover all variations: animal-assisted interactions (AAI).

Some people call these interactions “pet therapy,” but that term is frequently inaccurate and usually misleading:

Interactions with carefully screened and trained therapy animals can be therapeutic and beneficial. However, laws and regulations in the U.S. prohibit us calling something “therapy” without meeting specific criteria, such as having a licensed therapist setting individual treatment goals, guiding the treatment to meet those goals, documenting the treatment, evaluating treatment success, and possibly billing insurance for the treatment.

It is easy to imagine how important it is for the animal to thoroughly enjoy being around people and being touched by all kinds of people. Few people recognize the level of skill it takes on the handler’s part, as well. For example, handlers must have exceptional interpersonal skills. They must be able to attend to their animals fully while at the same time attending to the patients they are visiting, other patients or staff strolling by, and curious visitors. This takes not only a steady temperament, but also a great deal of skill. The basic skills that you come with can be enhanced through training, so that you will enter AAI with practice and confidence.

Here are the steps to take to become involved with your pet in AAIs:

  1. Get training for yourself as the handler. It is essential for you to know what you’re doing. If you don’t know how to interact with patients effectively and how to keep your animal safe in simple as well as challenging visiting situations, you and your animal are vulnerable.  You might even be a danger to the people you’re visiting. Some local groups offer their own unique training, and some include training from a national organization in their member orientation.  You can learn about various therapy dog registration organizations at Therapy Dog Organizations. You will see that their requirements vary widely.
  2. Obtain a behavioral evaluation of you and your animal together as a team. Your animal does not work without you, and you do not work without your animal – you’re a team. Many facilities will ask for proof that you are safe to come into their facility and visit with their patients. Having this behavioral evaluation is one way of providing proof. Being registered with a therapy animal organization is another way of providing proof. There are many organizations who register members and provide evaluations.  Some are found primarily in certain states, so you may need to do a little research to find the organization that is in your area.  Here are a few examples:  Intermountain Therapy Animals (works with all domesticated animals), Pet Partners (works with all domesticated animals), Therapy Dogs International (works only with dogs), and Therapy Dogs Incorporated (works only with dogs). Some local groups offer their own evaluations unique to the facilities they visit, and some provide evaluations from a therapy animal organization as part of their member orientation.
  3. Obtain a veterinary examination of your animal. Most facilities and national registrations want a written report of your animal’s health. Some have their own form that they prefer for you to use.
  4. Each organization (local or national) has its own procedure for becoming a member.  Contact the organization directly for its procedures.

What can we do for you?


“I just read your training outline after our session. It’s fabulous! You really need to publish this. Thank you, thank you.”

We provide a variety of professional services to assist individuals and facilities to provide animal-assisted interactions:

Training and Screening for Volunteers


“What an energizing class on Saturday! Thanks for all of your effort and enthusiasm. Glorious and I are practicing and looking forward to The TEST!”

People everywhere are excited about volunteering in animal-assisted interactions programs. Volunteers are more successful at the facility and enjoy greater personal satisfaction when they know what to do and how to do it. It may seem like a volunteer is just there to hold the leash while the therapy animal interacts with patients, but nothing could be further from the truth. Skilled handlers know how to keep their animal safe by gently and firmly redirecting patients who are too exuberant. Skilled handlers know how to read their animal’s communication, so that they can end a session while the animal is still content (and thus avoid burn out).

We offer private lessons to train you how to “do” animal-assisted interactions – how to work effectively with your animal, with staff of the facility, and with patients at a facility. Whether you are new to the field or have been doing this for many years, you will find support, encouragement, and learning at Human-Animal Solutions.  We can provide classes for groups of four.  We also screen animals to help you decide if your animal is a good candidate for AAI work.

Contact us for more information or to schedule a class or evaluation.

Training for Professionals


“Very amicable and articulate speaker. Well-organized materials and presentation.”

“Your dedication is obvious and honorable.”

You may feel like you need a creative way to reach your clients, or you may be searching for continuing education. We offer classes that provide overview or detailed information about how to effectively incorporate animal-assisted therapy into your therapy practice. We specialize in mental, physical, occupational, and speech applications.

Contact us for more information or to schedule a class.

Healthcare facilities, mental health, and social service agencies

If you are a staff member in a healthcare facility, mental health facility, or social service agency, we first meet with the designated staff contact person. During this meeting we identify patient population needs, staff needs, facility layout, and facility policies. We find out if animal-assisted therapy is a realistic option for your facility. Together we determine if staff would be helped by an in-service prior to beginning AAT sessions. Then we contract for in-service training and/or consultation.


Contact us for additional information or to schedule a meeting

Girl w/ Kitten