What exactly is animal assisted therapy?
Let’s get some vocabulary out of the way so you know what the heck I’m talking about!
When volunteering with your piggy (or any approved animal for that matter), there are different types of activities that you can participate in.
1. Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT). The leading organization in bringing animals and people together in this type of environment is Pet Partners. (To find out more about this amazing organization, and hopefully join me in volunteering with them, click here.) They define AAT as “Animal-assisted therapy is a goal oriented, planned, structured and documented therapeutic intervention directed by health and human service providers as part of their profession. A wide variety of disciplines may incorporate AAT. Possible practitioners could include physicians, occupational therapists, physical therapists, certified therapeutic recreation specialists, nurses, social workers, speech therapists, or mental health professionals.”
2. Animal Assisted Intervention, which Pet Partners defines as “Animal-assisted interventions are goal oriented and structured interventions that intentionally incorporate animals in health, education and human service for the purpose of therapeutic gains and improved health and wellness. Animal-assisted therapy (AAT), animal-assisted education (AAE) and animal-assisted activities (AAA) are all forms of animal-assisted interventions. In all these interventions, the animal may be part of a volunteer therapy animal team working under the direction of a professional or an animal that belongs to the professional himself.”
3. Animal Assisted Activities, which Pet Partners defines as “Animal-assisted activities provide opportunities for motivational, educational and/or recreational benefits to enhance quality of life. While more informal in nature, these activities are delivered by a specially trained professional, paraprofessional and/or volunteer, in partnership with an animal that meets specific criteria for suitability.”
4. Animal Assisted Education, which Pet Partners defines as “Animal-assisted education is a goal oriented, planned and structured intervention directed by a general education or special education professional. The focus of the activities is on academic goals, prosocial skills and cognitive functioning with student progress being both measured and documented.”
So, now that we have the nitty gritty of the vocabulary out the way, let’s get to the fun part!
I start preparing Grizzly before we even leave the house. I have a store bought cage for his travel carrier (all they should EVER be used for). I put some fleece at the bottom, his hay rack, water bottle, and the fleece sleeping bag I made for him so he can hide if he wants. I get him out of his big cage and spend some time with him, giving his veggies and just loving on him. Next, the car ride.
He actually seems to enjoy car rides. He tries his hardest to get high enough to were he can see out the window. (If my husband is driving I will sometimes take him out and let him look out the window, he is so fascinated by it!)
During the car ride, I try to talk to him as much as I can. Hearing my voice not only reassures him that I am still there with him, he seems to be calmer through the visit as well.
Before we head into the facility where were we will be visiting, I put his blanket in his basket that he travels in (I use the same blanket every time) and give him a few minutes to get comfy in his basket. We have done this so many times now, when he goes into his basket, he knows it’s time for work!
This is where I tend to get the question, “How do you keep him from using the bathroom on people?” 99% of the time he stays in his basket, and if I do take him out to let someone hold him, he is on a VERY thick blanket so that if he were to urinate, it would not get on anyone. If he does poop, I ALWAYS keep hand sanitizer with me, so I pick it up discretely as possibly and use hand sanitizer right away! However, because we have visited so many facilities together, Grizzly knows when he is working and he tends not to use the bathroom. Once he gets back into his travel cage, that’s a whole other story though!
So, like I said during the visit, 99% of the time I keep Grizzly in the basket for two reasons:
1. Less stress on him.
2. Most people have never held a guinea pig and they may feel uncomfortable holding him. Using a basket provides an opportunity for the individual and him to connect in a way that is comfortable for both of them.
Once our visit is complete and Grizzly is back in his travel cage, I like to let him decompress for awhile before I snuggle on him anymore. I give him lots of fresh veggies as a reward, and he usually ends up taking a nap on the ride home.
Why do I volunteer with him?
It is absolutely amazing to be able to see people that are very stressed out, completely decompress and relax when they are interacting with Grizzly. Their whole demeanor changes. I also just love interacting with people, you would be surprised how much people open up to you, and you might be the only smiling face that they see all day!
I love visiting nursing homes and seeing people who don’t normally engage with other or talk much, open up when they see Grizzly.
Volunteering with Pet Partners has been such an incredible experience. I highly recommend looking into getting your guinea pig (or another animal you may have) certified through this amazing organization. Get plugged in and see the difference that you can make!
If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to me on any of the social platforms or shoot me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Ashlee + Piggies
P.S. Here is a picture of Grizzly in his basket heading to “work”!