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Spreading a smile on a thousand faces

10 Feb 2014 | by Natasha Nundy | Posted in: Wag Wiki

Pets for some of us are an integral part of the family. Those of you who have had pets for long would know that this is the best companion for your child. Your child will not only learn to be responsible when there is a pet around but are blessing in disguise for those who are specially abled.

In India the concept of therapy dogs is still new, not many know as to how dogs can be of exceptional help to mentally and physically challenged people especially children. This was the foresight of Minal Lonkar Kavishwar, who started Animal Angels in 2003. She along with a group of like-minded people started an NGO that believed in the healing power of pets.

Therapy Dog

Minal started various initiatives for the mentally challenged children. The one of a kind initiative was AAT i.e. Animal Assisted Therapy, this was especially designed to promote improvement in all kind of human interaction and ensure effectiveness in the social, emotional and cognitive functions. In this therapy the animals are a catalyst that helps the patients to help themselves.

Animal Angels therapy dog

At present Animal Angels has successfully introduced and implemented AAT for mentally challenged children, autistic, hyperactive and physically disabled children. In addition they have known to have benefitted children with hearing and speech impairment, cancer patients, AIDS orphans. AAT has also been useful for elder people and also helps people with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Animal Angels have also successfully started AAA i.e. that is Animal Assisted Activities. Psychotherapists associated with the program believe that when such activities are incorporated with physiotherapy then they help in phenomenal improvement for the children. He believes that such activities help the patient to forget that fact that he or she is going through therapy and helps them to just enjoy the session. This is especially useful in cases of cerebral palsy.

The innovative idea does not end here, the other thing that was started by the Animal Angels Foundation was Animal Assisted Education, which was more to do with students and classroom interactions. The idea is simple to incorporate animals into educational setting. There are two initiatives under this program. One of this is called the Tails of Joy, in this activity the child reads out a book to a dog. this is especially useful in cases where there is a disability or fright of reading involved. The dog does not shout at child even if he or she makes mistakes.

The other is Little Angels, this has been specially designed for normal school children and help to introduce animal interaction amongst children.

We thought that our readers would love to know more about this novel initiative and these therapies might also help someone who is need for it. Here are the excerpts of a one on one with Minal Kavishwar, the founder of the organization. Here is what she has to say for her cause.

Animal Angel Foundation

Q. Please tell our readers what does Animal Angel Foundation do?

Ans Animal Angels Foundation is India’s only registered NGO working in the field of Human-Animal Interaction. We are a team of pets / pet owners, volunteers and mental health professionals who provide therapy through the medium of trained therapy animals.  Family pets are selected for their temperament and trained as therapy dogs, these therapy dogs assist our team of counsellors and volunteers in providing treatment to people with various mental or physical disabilities.

For the past 10 years, we have been providing this therapy to a wide range of patients from children with developmental disabilities to senior citizens, from cancer patients to normal people with stress. We are currently working in five cities with over 50 trained therapy dogs and aim to spread awareness about benefits of Human Animal Interaction all throughout India.

Q. How did you come through the idea of helping people through animals?

Ans I have always been very close to animals. It was through personal experience that I knew that dogs have an ability to understand our emotions and support us. I was already into animal behavior and training. It was when I was doing my masters in psychology that a school approached me to train a dog for them. The school was for mentally challenged children. That's where i realised that i could combine my profession and passion. Kutty, a female lab was trained as a therapy dog for the school (Kutty recently passed away, she was 10 years old and served as a therapy dog for the school for 8 years. She was adopted and cared for by the ex-principal of the school, Mrs. Shyamashree Bhosle).

dog for therapy

Q. What kind of people come to your centre?

Ans We work with all kinds of people who have emotional, developmental or physical disabilities. I mostly work with children with developmental disabilities such as autism, mental retardation, down syndrome, reading / learning differences etc. It is not only children that we cater to; we also work with adults dealing with issues such as cancer, emotional stress or any other psychiatric disorders.

Q. Which are the ways through which you promote the centre?

Ans Our work is very unique and one of its kind in India. Most of the promotion about our work is done through word of mouth. When parents and doctors see the benefit of an animal accompanying the therapist they tell about it to others. We also hold awareness campaigns and workshops in collages for students aspiring to learn AAT, for pet owners who are interested in training their pet as a therapy animal. We have our website, www.animalangels.org.in, a Facebook page facebook.com/AnimalAngelsFoundation and a blog goldiecares.blogspot.in

Q. Which breeds do you have at the centre at the moment? What were the reasons for having these?

Ans When we select a therapy dog, it is not on the basis of the breed, but on their temperament and personality. It is just like being in a profession, you need predisposition and training, similarly, to be a therapy dog, the dog needs a certain kind of personality and is later trained for this specialized work. We mostly have Labradors and Golden Retrievers as they naturally have the temperament to be good and patient with children. though all dogs go through screening and training prior to be certified as a Therapy dog.training process for thrapy dog

Q. What is the training procedure for the dogs before they can be classified as therapy dogs?

Ans Therapy dogs are trained to understand and respond to human emotions. They are extremely social and like to be the centre of attention. Along with this they go through an obedience training that teaches them to be patient and we provide them special training to understand and identify rough touch.

Q. In India Therapy dogs are still in their infancy, what steps should be taken to promote it?

Ans We need generate more awareness among pet owners that their pets can be something more than just pets sitting around at home. We need to promote among people the unconditional love and understanding that pets provide to their family can be shared with someone in real need. The mental and medical health community should also be engaged and made aware that Animal Therapy is a scientifically proven and effective tool when it comes to providing healing.

Q. Do the parents coming to centre also have to go through some kind of training before the children are given therapy?

Ans No parents do not need training when they come to the centre, they need training when they opt for an in-house dog that is trained by us.

Q. Which learning do you promote through these therapy dogs(i.e. cognitive or motor skills)?

Ans Animal Therapy promotes all sorts of skills. It depends on the goals we set for the individual. 

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