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Best practice in AAI- achieving connectedness

How do we know what is the best practice in Animal-Assisted Interventions? If so, do we agree on what is the best practice?

Marie-Jose Enders-Slegers Ph.D
President of the International Association of Human-Animal Interaction Organizations since 2016
Professor in Anthrozoology at the Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences at the Open University in Heerlen,  the Netherlands, since June 2013. 

Steps have been taken in the right direction


One notices: 


  •  Growing scientific knowledge about animals cognition and emotions (Panksepp, Bekof, Miklosi, Hare)


  • Growing scientific knowledge about mechanisms of AAI and HAI (Griffioen, Verheggen et al.)


  • Increased awareness of the importance of the relationship between animal, therapist or handler and client

Educational programs arise all over the world


More and more organizations are developing their own standards for delivering Animal-Assisted Interventions. For example: 

  • SAAT/ESAAT developed standards about species and developed an accreditation system of educational programs 

  • PATH International developed quality standards, educational programs etc.



Education on the human side of the AAI equation we need:


  1. Professionals that are trained and qualified in their profession (medical doctors, psychologists, speech therapist, social workers, nurses, physiotherapists etc.)

  2. Volunteers /handlers that are trained in working with special populations

Education on the animal side of the AAI equation we need: 

  1. Better knowledge of ethology, animal welfare and behaviour, training methods, knowledge and practice in how to do the interventions with the animals, zoonosis, first aid etc.

  2. Better knowledge of legal issues, protocols, how to evaluate AAI programs etc.



  • Will improve standards of care for human and animal participants

  • Will help bring professionalism in the field of AAI

  • Will help to further legitimize AAI alongside mainstream approaches

  • Will enhance client and public confidence in the field of AAI

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One Health One Welfare

One Welfare: Healthy Environments for Human and Nonhuman Animals

Presentation at IAHAIO15th Triennial International Conference, April 12-14, Green Chimneys, Brewster, New York, USA

James A. Serpell Ph.D
Center for the Interaction of Animals and Society
University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicin

One Welfare: The welfare of humans, other
animals and the environment are interconnected and interdependent

The implications of One Welfare for Animal-Assisted Interventions


  • The Instrumental Approach to Animal-Assisted Interventions





“Nothing else dogs do compares to the kinds of intrinsically stressful social

interactions that take place when they visit clinical, educational, or post-trauma situations..... Most dogs have been bred for generations to distinguish between outsiders and the family, and to act accordingly. There has never been a breed of dogs designed to enjoy encroachment from strangers. Dogs who actually enjoy interactions in clinical and educational settings are very rare” (Butler, 2004: 31).




  • The Ethical Approach to Animal-Assisted Interventions







“It would be unethical to initiate an AAI with a goal of improving a patient’s
welfare through a program that compromises the well-being of the animal or other individuals. In designing effective AAI’s, facilities and handlers must ensure that adequate provisions and protocols are in place to continually monitor and safeguard the health and well-being of all patients, staff, handlers, visitors and animals involved” (IAHAIO, 2019)

[Dogs should] welcome, not just tolerate, interactions with strangers” (Pet Partners, 2019).

In the context of Animal-Assisted Interventions, One Welfare means not only protecting the welfare of therapy animals but also selecting the ones that derive pleasure (i.e. positive welfare) from this type of activity. This, in turn, should maximize their therapeutic impact on AAI recipients.

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