A bit of history ...
The earliest reported use of animals as an adjunct to therapy was performed in the late 18th century at the York Retreat in England and was led by William Tuke. Mentally ill patients were allowed to wander the grounds of the establishment which contained a population of small domestic animals who were believed to be effective tools for socialisation.
In 1860, the Bethlem Hospital in England adopted the same practice and provided animals to their ward, greatly influencing the morale of their patients.
In 1961, Dr. Boris Levinson was the first one to document how animals in a therapy setting with children provided a way to ease the therapy sessions.
Today, AAT is more popular than ever and is delivered in a variety of environments by specially trained professionals, paraprofessionals, and/or volunteers, in association with animals that meet specific criteria.
A unique FOUR PAWS programme
People’s attitude towards stray dogs are wide-ranging. If some people understand that these dogs have just fallen into unfortunate circumstances and still deserve as much love as any other creature, many try to avoid them, as they are either afraid of the dogs’ possible aggressive reaction or consider them sources of diseases. If some stray dogs surely assert their dominance after years of living on dangerous streets, many of them are docile, kind and loving.
In an effort to prove that stray dogs can be an immense asset to the society, FOUR PAWS introduced in 2004 the first Animal Assisted Intervention (AAI) programme in which former stray dogs are selected, trained and certified by experts to become therapy dogs.
Within the AAI Programme, Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) is a type of complementary therapy that involves guided interaction with animals to facilitate healing and rehabilitation of patients with acute or chronic disease. It is believed to have an array of benefits, including personal and social development, increased self-esteem, improved mental health, better social skills and increased empathy and nurturing skills.
Our AAT programme combines consulting and psychological support with animal assisted therapy for children and adults with disabilities, with special health care needs and chronic health conditions. Targeted areas of interventions are autism spectrum disorders, developmental delays and mental disabilities.
Developed to benefit both people and animals, our programme aims to change people’s perception and attitude towards stray dogs by emphasising the societal value as therapy and companion dogs. One of the desired side effects is that through a change in perspective about stray dogs, people would also consider adopting strays as companion animals.
FOUR PAWS currently runs AAT projects with former stray dogs in Romania and Bulgaria. We are also planning to set up a new project in Ukraine in 2018.
In 2004, FOUR PAWS became the first organisation to launch an AAT programme in Romania. The Dogs for People project started with a mobile team providing therapy sessions in special center for kids with disabilities.
In 2012, after 8 years working with children, FOUR PAWS extended the project to offer animal assisted activities (AAA) for institutionalized senior citizens in which therapy dogs visit patients with age-specific mental disabilities in retirement homes in Bucharest. The goal of AAA with elders is to support in building rapport, increasing self-esteem and motivation, and reducing loneliness and depression.
In early 2016, FOUR PAWS opened the first AAT center in Bucharest where children are offered weekly support and therapy from our dogs Mulan, Toto and Tuca, and their handler, completely free of charge. That same year, the scope of the project expanded beyond AAT into research in the field of human-animal interaction and through a partnership with the Psychology Faculty of the University of Bucharest into education, by offering practice and education opportunities to students.
In 2017, in an effort to meet the needs of a constantly changing society, our team developed the No Stress Programme, an animal-assisted intervention (AAI) aimed at reducing stress among company employees through interactions with dogs.
In 2015, FOUR PAWS launched the process to set up an AAT project in Bulgaria working with former stray dogs of Sofia. A team of experts, including a psychologist and a dog trainer, started the procedures and Smiley was trained as a therapy dog.
By the end of 2016, our Canistherapy project obtained the license from the Bulgarian Agency for Child Protection to perform animal assisted therapy sessions in the country.
In 2017, FOUR PAWS signed an agreement with the Municipality of Sofia and became the first organisation to launch an AAT project in Bulgaria. After a short pilot phase, Smiley and our team delivered their first animal assisted activities in Lozenets’ Center for children and adolescents.
Since November 2017, Choko is on training weekly to become our second therapy dog.