Animal-Assisted Therapeutic Interventions (a.k.a. Bring your spoiled animal to work day!)


I bit my tongue.

It may be hard for many of you to believe (especially those of you who know me well), but I actually bite my tongue a lot!

Okay…maybe I didn’t completely stay silent…but I kept my smart-ass comments quiet enough that only my wife could hear them.

Okay…I mostly kept my, aforementioned, comments quiet enough that only my wife could hear them…then we had our lunch break and I ranted for the allotted hour about how the speaker had a great understanding of the human-psychological/legal sides of using animals in therapeutic settings…but how his understanding of animal behavior, and the history of domestication of animals was almost completely incorrect, and pure piffle! PIFFLE I say!!!

(I also, intermittently, ranted about the quality of the “bison-burger” I was eating and how “chef’s apparently don’t understand the meaning of “medium-rare” these days”, the recent study featured in a Scientific American podcast which proved that women are more attracted to the color pink than men, the newest stand-up comedian I am into, yuppie horse people and cat ladies, the potential of using octopus as therapy animals……and probably puppies at some point…thanks ADHD!)

My wife, being the reasonable person that she is, pointed out to me that “everyone from the conference is eating lunch here as well…maybe you shouldn’t say that stuff so loud…?” I assured her that “It was not necessarily a bad thing if I was overheard. My comments were scientifically founded and I would relish the opportunity to engage anyone in a healthy discussion ultimately benefiting therapy clients everywhere!”

…or it could have been more like “I don’t give a crap! They won’t say anything!”………. it was one of those two….can’t remember which…

Let me backtrack for a minute:

My wife (Cathy) and I were attending a day-long conference entitled “Animal-Assisted Therapeutic Interventions” which is a topic of interest to us both. To Cathy, as a Speech Language Pathologist; and to me, as a…well…redneck with a heart of gold and access to fluffy animals.

The day started off with me clearing the inch of ice/slush that had collected on our car (first day of spring baby!!!) Then we got stuck in crappy traffic, got lost, and arrived at the conference hall 30 minutes late…not a big deal.

We signed in, and got lead (by a woman whom I am quite sure was a vampire…or maybe I have just gotten WAY too into this “Twilight” series…) into the conference room. There were only two seats available and they were on opposite ends of the room…so much for spending some time with “The Sheriff” (a.k.a. my wife.) Cathy walked up the center aisle quickly and quietly (so as not to disturb anyone) and moved off to the open chair on the right.

I, being the Sargent asshole that I am (not quite a Major…), took my time, got myself some coffee, and meandered to the open seat on the left side of the hall in the back; all the while smiling pleasantly and nodding at anyone who shot me a dirty glance. I don’t get embarrassed easily…and just because I got stuck in traffic, and was a little late leaving because my 3 year old was throwing up like Shaq’s free throws (i.e. often, and all over the place…), doesn’t mean you all have to give me snotty looks!

(Did I mention that, on top of the ADHD, I am proud to have recently been diagnosed with ODD, or Oppositional Defiance Disorder ((normally associated with children and teenagers…lol…can I say that I am “young at heart…….and a little bit behaviorally…”)) Symptoms of which include:

  • Excessively arguing with authority figures
  • Actively refusing to comply with requests and rules
  • Deliberately trying to annoy or upset others, or being easily annoyed by others
  • Blaming others for your mistakes
  • Having frequent outbursts of anger and resentment

………….can’t say that I disagree with the Doc on this one…although I don’t usually refer to it as “ODD”…I prefer the more common moniker SAWBMD or “Smart-Ass With Big Mouth Disorder…which is a much better disorder to have as opposed to the similar, but distinctly different, BAWSMD (Big-Ass With Smart Mouth Disorder)…in hindsight anyway…((You’ve all heard of “Foot and Mouth Disease”…this is more like “Foot IN Mouth Disease”…))


I arrived at the only other “empty” chair and had to tap on the woman in the adjacent chair’s shoulder (as she pretended to not know I was there) and ask her to move her THREE pocket books from the chair. (Who the hell needs three pocket books at a conference about animal therapy?!?…was she smuggling kittens or something?) More dirty looks…more not caring and patronizing friendliness on my part.

Now, you all have to understand; I was not surrounded by my “usual crowd” here. I had attempted to “fit in” when I had gotten dressed that morning…I had actually washed my Carhart jeans the night before…they didn’t even have any holes in them! My boots were my “nice” work boots (I didn’t wear the knee-high rubber camo ones), and my corduroy button-down shirt had only been on the floor for a couple of days (didn’t even smell or anything! I had Cathy check!!) I was also wearing my camo (scent-blocking) baseball hat….but camo is always classy and is a good choice for any setting…right?

But even with all of my careful preparations, I did not fit in. I looked around the room full of OT’s, SLP’s, LICSW’s, RN’s, PT’s, PHD’s, ICUP’s, in their “business casual” attire, with their make-up and hair did up all nice-like…40 very educated, middle-aged, upper-class, lower-tolerance, white woman looked me up and down…from my unshaven face (shaving’s overrated) to my scruffy-looking timberlands…

(Side-note: It is an interesting thing watching someone attempt to look you “up-and-down” while simultaneously “looking down” on you…)

…I didn’t get any sort of “warm-fuzzy” welcoming vibes…

The funny part about all that (to me anyway) was; here were a bunch of yuppy women who wanted to bring animals into their classrooms/therapy rooms. They talked about wanted to utilize not only dogs and cats, but horses, sheep, and rabbits as well (and in the case of one of the two other men at the conference, an older gentleman, Octopus…) I have these animals!!! You need me in order to do what you say you want to do! This is what someone who has horses, sheep, and rabbits look like!

…I hate to break it to all you yuppies out there…animals don’t just appear out of thin air! SOMEONE has to shovel their shit! And fancy shoes and painted nails and muck boots and beat-up nails all look the same when covered in compost…just saying…


Don’t get me wrong the conference was great! Very informative for me and my wife. Fortunately for my wife, she knows (and is willing to tolerate associating with) someone who can provide her with therapy animals. And, fortunately for her clients, that “someone” is happy to offer those animals when it would benefit therapy.

My frustration was that from listening to the women in attendance it seemed as though the therapeutic value of having animals present during sessions with clients was not the primary concern. It seemed as though the label of “therapy animal” was viewed as an excuse for every cat-lady with a degree to bring “Fluffy” to work with them…

Listening to the discussion on justifying the cost and time involved with training cats and dogs to behave properly while in therapy sessions (sitting still, being quiet, being gentle with clients, etc.) made me want to scream! Guess what people! You could chuck my Angora rabbits across a room fifty times and then plop them in someones lap and they would sit still, be quiet, be gentle, etc. And a client could have screamed, yelled, punched, and shoved my old draft horses, and the horses probably wouldn’t have even noticed!

Maybe instead of spending time and money making sure that you can bring your pet into your therapy sessions, maybe we should focus on figuring out what animals are most beneficial specifically in terms of the therapy! What species, breed, or individual animal will best help the clients! Isn’t that what we are all here for? To help people? I like to think that I was not the only one there who was not there for myself.

So let’s start using our brains people! As someone who works with animals on a daily basis, I am well of aware that they can be very therapeutic! (They can also cause a lot of stress…but that is another story…) I have brought animals to classrooms, neuro-rehab centers, and assisted-living centers and have witnessed, if nothing else, the joy that animals can bring to people living in these settings. So let’s focus on that! Let’s start with figuring out what animals are most effective in these types of settings, and let’s find the people who have those animals and are willing to get involved! There are so many benefits to using therapy animals, we could really help a lot of people.

I believe that there is a lot of good work to be done here; and I will definitely be undertaking some of this work in the near future. Let me know if you are interested in helping!


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