Dog Kaya in Bulgaria

Animal Assisted Interventions

From stray to superhero: stray dogs with a mission to change attitudes

21.8.2023

Animal Assisted Interventions (AAI) are a vital aspect of our community stray animal care approach. By fostering empathy and changing attitudes towards stray dogs, these interventions aim to change people's behaviours towards them. Through firsthand experiences with these resilient and affectionate animals, participants develop a perception of stray dogs as deserving of care and protection. This shift in perception promotes responsibility and active engagement in local community stray animal care initiatives, such as adoption, spaying/neutering, responsible pet ownership and supporting local shelters. Ultimately, our goal is to create a compassionate society that values and provides an opportunity for stray dogs to lead happy and healthy lives.

FOUR PAWS pioneered a groundbreaking initiative by becoming the first organisation to introduce an AAI programme that selects, trains, and certifies former stray dogs as therapy dogs. This pioneering effort aims to demonstrate the significant contributions that stray dogs can make to our society. Under the guidance of experts, these dogs undergo specialised training to fulfil their role as therapy dogs, further highlighting their potential and positive impact. These dogs are also adopted by their dog handler and become their pet dog as well as therapy dog.

Three different types of Animal Assisted Interventions

Animal Assisted Interventions dog Bumi
Animal Assisted Therapy 
Complementary therapy to facilitate healing and rehabilitation of patients with acute or chronic disease.
For example, Animal Assisted Therapy has been proven to be particularly helpful with children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Children with ASD have showed significant improvements in their social interactions, communication skills, and emotional regulation, just after several sessions, highlighting the potential benefits of animal-assisted therapy in enhancing the overall well-being of individuals with ASD.
Animal assisted activities with the elderly in a care home in Bulgaria
Animal Assisted Activities
Informal interaction for motivational, educational and recreational purposes. 
For example, Animal Assisted Activities can be used with groups of elderly residents of retirement homes where trained therapy dogs provide them with companionship and affection. This usually results in increased feelings of joy, reduced stress levels, and improved overall mood among the residents, demonstrating the positive impact of animal-assisted activities in enhancing the quality of life for the elderly population.
Animal assisted education activities with children in Chernivtsy, Ukraine
Animal Assisted Education
Therapeutic intervention focused on improving learning ability, engagement and social skills.
This can be a ‘reading with therapy dogs programme’ where trained therapy dogs visit schools or libraries, providing a calm and supportive environment for students to practice reading aloud. As a result, the children's reading confidence and fluency improves significantly, fostering a positive and enjoyable learning experience through the incorporation of animal-assisted education.

Why stray dogs can make such good therapy animals

Stray dogs possess qualities that make them excellent companions for humans, including sensitivity, reliability, and sociability, enabling them to excel as therapy dogs. To prepare them for this role, experienced dog trainers provide consistent reward-based training, along with the necessary equipment and a suitable environment. Our teams ensure comprehensive training for carefully selected dogs, meeting international requirements before they embark on their new journey as therapy dogs.

Preparing dogs for Animal Assisted Interventions

FOUR PAWS has developed its own Quality Standards for Animal Assisted Interventions (AAI) to define, secure, check and continuously improve the quality of our AAI activities. We want to achieve the best possible quality of life for the former stray dogs in our care, as well as operate the programme as effectively and efficiently as possible.

Our priority is the welfare of our dogs, so when it comes to AAI work, we need to ensure that the dog is physically and mentally fit to work in AAI settings.

Selection

Thorough consideration is essential for selecting AAI dogs, taking into account their temperament, age, behaviour, and physical health. A comprehensive selection process ensures that chosen dogs exhibit adaptability and predictability in various environments. Ideally, AAI dogs should possess friendly, confident, and calm temperaments.

Training

Consists of three steps: the adjustment period, socialisation and formal training. The adjustment and socialisation period serve to form a trusting relationship between the handler and the dog and the social resilience of the dog. The formal training period is about building the necessary training skills for AAI work. All FOUR PAWS training is based on positive reinforcement.

Certification

Following a minimum of 12-month training period and upon reaching the minimum age of 18 months, a dog is eligible for certification. The key elements of the assessment are temperament, behaviour, and physical health.

How the AAI programme developed 

2018: Ukraine 

In 2018, our AAI programme expanded to Ukraine where FOUR PAWS first began AAI activities in Vinnytsia after a year of preparation.

2018

2017: Bulgaria

FOUR PAWS became the first organisation to launch an AAI project with former stray dogs in Bulgaria.

2017

2016: Romania

In early 2016, FOUR PAWS opened the first Animal Assisted Therapy and Research Centre in Bucharest.

2016

2004: Romania 'Dogs for People'

In 2004, FOUR PAWS launched its AAI Programme with former stray dogs in Romania. The 'Dogs for People' project started with a mobile team which provided therapy sessions in special centres for children with disabilities.

2004

Meet our Therapy dogs!

Smiley

Smiley, AAI Bulgaria


Found as a puppy with terrible injuries, Smiley was rescued from the streets and given intense rehabilitation. His kind nature was obvious from the start and very soon Smiley became the first AAI dog in Bulgaria!

Shoko

Shoko, AAI Bulgaria


Shoko suffered from a horrendous injury. FOUR PAWS stepped in to save him, and with love and care, Shoko eventually recovered from his injuries. Today, Shoko loves children and has an extraordinary friendship with a child who has autism.

Kaya

Kaya, AAI Bulgaria


Kaya was brought as a stray to a shelter where she showed her remarkably friendly and gentle nature towards people. She was the perfect candidate! Kaya now supports the recovery process of teenagers suffering from substance abuse.

Freya

Freya, AAI Ukraine


Freya was found near a rubbish bin in Bulgaria with numerous wounds and bruises. After being saved  by our clinic team, her incredibly loving, joyful, and good nature was quickly discovered and she became our latest AAI dog.

Busia

Busia, AAI Ukraine


On the streets of Lviv, sweet-natured Busia longed for family and love, so the AAI team knew this was the perfect opportunity for her to have a second chance, and to be cherished every day.

Alice

Alice, AAI Ukraine


Alice was a 5-month-old puppy found on streets of Chernivtsy  with a broken hip. She was fostered by the team and during her recovery she showed great potential to become an AAI dog.

Bumi

Bumi, AAI Romania


During a FOUR PAWS rescue mission in Serbia to help animals and people affected by the floods, Bumi always stayed on our side. Showing lots of love and patience, soon after he was adopted, started training for AAI and is now supporting children with disabilities.

Memberships

FOUR PAWS extends its global reach by actively participating in international organisations dedicated to Dog Population Management and Animal Assisted Interventions. As a full member of the International Companion Animal Management (ICAM) coalition, FOUR PAWS also holds membership with the International Association for Human Animal Interaction Organisations (IAHAIO) and Animal Assisted Intervention International (AAII). These memberships allow FOUR PAWS to promote its key stray animal welfare messages on a global scale.

Therapy Dog Busia working with a soldier in Ukraine

FOUR PAWS' work for stray animals

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