101 Creative Ideas for Animal Assisted Therapy: Interventions for AAT Teams and Working Professionals. It’s a resource for anyone involved in Animal Assisted Therapy with dogs, cats, birds horses, and small animals. It’s full of intervention ideas, recipes, songs, and books. There’s also an index in the second half of the book that connects all of the ideas to goals in different fields.
Tell us something about yourself.
I started volunteering as a member of Therapy Animals of Utah with my bichon Cosita in 1992. At that time, I had no idea that an hour-a-week volunteer opportunity would turn into something I’m now so passionate about! Since then, Cosita, Liberty and I have visited in care centers, rehab centers, a juvenile lockdown facility, a mental-health hospital, a children’s hospital, and hospice. We’re members of the Delta Society, and I’ve become a Delta certified instructor and evaluator. Liberty and I also mentor new teams now and then. When I’m not volunteering, I work as a fourth grade teacher.
What inspired you to write this book?
From the beginning, I couldn’t help but be amazed at the little miracles my dogs seemed to bring about; the smiles, sometimes the tears, the hugs, the social interaction, and the motivation to do and say things clients wouldn’t normally do. I also recognized the “therapy” my dogs gave to me. I wanted to learn more, so a friend and I decided to get our graduate certificates in Animals and Human Health at Denver State University. There were animal handlers as well as therapists in the group. Throughout the year-long program, we had many discussions about different activities that facilitated the animal/human bond, and it seemed that one of the common frustrations was the lack of ideas, or “lesson plans” for AAT. Because of this, as one of my final projects I made a little 15 page pamphlet of about 30 ideas, cross-referenced to a few physical, social and mental health goals. I gave one to each of my classmates. My professor really liked it. He encouraged me to go home, copyright the book and have it published. Two years later, it’s grown to be 190 pages of 101 ideas, as well as songs, books, and recipes. It’s my hope to give therapists and handlers more “tools” to choose from, so they’re better able to find interventions that fit their clients and the therapy animal. This in turn promotes the human/animal bond and helps the animal partners help the clients reach their goals.
How did you find your publisher?
I went through a book coach, Randy Peyser at authoronestop.com. She made taking the manuscript from a Microsoft Word document to a polished, professional, published book so much easier. She hooked me up with the editor, the graphic designer, and the publisher, Motivational Press. She was also available to answer any questions I had (which were many) and guide me through the process. I couldn’t have done it without authoronestop.
How did you know you wanted to be a writer? How did you get started?
I’ve always enjoyed writing, even as a child. Writing a book has always been on my “bucket list,” or on my list of things I wanted to do before I die, though I always thought it would be a childrens’ book. That might just have to happen in the future. One of my jobs that put me through graduate school in Deaf Education was to develop lesson plans for the Addison Wesly Reading program. That gave me a lot of practice in writing step-by-step, easy-to-understand instructions for activities.
What do you believe is the hardest part of writing?
Finding the time to write. I teach school, work a second job to support my teaching habit, volunteer one night a week doing animal-assisted therapy, volunteer at my church, and spend time playing with my dogs and having a social life. As much as I enjoy writing, it’s hard to make the time. Summer vacation was really helpful!
What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing or publishing?
Choose something you’re passionate about. If you’re not passionate about it, you won’t have the motivation to complete it. I’d also recommend using a book coach, at least the first time.
Where did you get the ideas in your book?
Did I think of all of them? Definitely not. I just took the time to write them down and make them accessible to others. I truly believe that no one really comes up with a new idea all on their own. Instead, we are inspired by ideas from others. We then take those ideas and adapt them to make them fit our circumstances. It would be impossible for me to list all of the people who inspired me, because I’d have to start clear back with my own elementary school teachers! Some were contributed by professionals and handlers. Many are effective interventions and activities I’ve heard of that are just adapted to include an animal. Some are activities I’ve used in my own experience. This book is definitely not a comprehensive list. The hard part was drawing the line at 101. As a matter of fact, I’ve got a new list going of activities that might come out in the next book. There’s even a place on the website aatideas.com for readers to submit their own ideas.
What is Animal-Assisted Therapy? How is it utilized?
Animal-assisted therapy includes a therapist or teacher, a trained animal and their handler, and a client. Let’s say for example that the client has had a stroke and is experiencing weakness on her left side. As part of the physical therapy, the client needs to do exercises with her right arm. She’s miserable, because the exercises are hard, the arm is stiff, and it hurts. She doesn’t want to do them. Hand her a ball to throw for an eager therapy dog to retrieve, and she gladly does them without even realizing it, strengthening her arm in the process. AAT is very effective in physical therapy, but it can also be utilized in mental health, speech, recreational, social, occupational, and academic fields.
Is your book a training manual for people interested in Animal-Assisted therapy?
Definitely not. This book is meant for working professionals and handlers and their animal partners who have already been trained in animal-assisted therapy. There’s so much to learn about positioning your animal and the client, making sure you’re not “using” your animal, and keeping everyone safe. 101 Creative Ideas doesn’t address any of those prerequisites.
What is your most memorable experience in animal-assisted therapy?
There are so many: the man who told Cosita all about a childhood memory when he hadn’t spoken in a year; the girl who moved her paralyzed fingers after Liberty gave her hand a “massage,” the man who snuggled up to Cosita who could finally relax when he was going through drug withdrawals… I could go on and on. I guess one of the most memorable was with a hospice client. He was very active in his community and his life revolved around service. When he arrived at the care center, he felt useless, like he had nothing left to contribute, and he just wanted to die. Liberty had been visiting him for a year, and they had quite a close bond. Together we developed a plan where he would take his therapy dog to the other residents and share her with them. He knocked on their doors, introduced us, and encouraged them to pet her and get to know her. He used to say, “I thought you might need some joy and love in your life today, and Liberty’s here to give it to you.” In the process, they got to know each other. He made a sign and hung it up so the residents would know when he would be visiting them. It didn’t take long before he was one of the most popular guys around. He couldn’t even wheel himself through the hallways without someone stopping him to talk about his therapy dog. We saw such a change in him. He went from feeling useless to feeling like he had a purpose for being there. Those visits gave him a reason to live.
Where can readers learn more about you and your book?
Go to aatideas.com where you can see in greater detail what’s in the book, contact me, submit your own ideas, and order your own copy. All proceeds from the sale of this book go to Therapy Animals of Utah.