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Therapeutic riding as occupational therapy, dogs visiting children with learning disabilities in school or hens spending time with seniors in elderly homes – so called animal-assisted interventions are manifold.
But administering treatments by professionally trained therapists and maintaining animal welfare are key, says Dr. Andrea Beetz. She is a psychologist, researcher and teacher and has worked in the field of human-animal interaction for more than 20 years.
DW: In what contexts have animal assisted interventions been particularly successful or used ?
Dr. Andrea Beetz: Animals have been integrated in all kinds of education and therapy for children. Children are very open. They have a natural affinity towards animals. They're curious about them.
So you can find a lot of school-visiting dogs or animal-assisted education approaches like therapeutic riding for the disabled, for instance.
We have a lot of success because children who are often tired of being in therapy and being in special kinds of support trainings, they are motivated again to participate in these interventions.
Another group that is highly visible in the field of animal-assisted interventions are seniors. One of the earliest interventions was a visiting program with dogs in homes for the elderly.
These visits were aimed at improving wellbeing, lightening the mood, occupying them, getting their mind off their age and illnesses.
So dogs are a great distraction and they are also social catalysts. They enable and facilitate conversations between humans.
DW: What do we know about the effectiveness of animal-assisted interventions?
Dr. Beetz: During the last 10 to 15 years, there have been numerous studies that document very positive effects of animal-assisted interventions.
For instance, there are several studies documenting that animal-assisted interventions can reduce depression and anxiety, they can improve mood, trust and also empathy. They reduce all kinds of stress indicators.
Blood pressure goes down, heart rate goes down. The levels of the stress hormone cortisol are reduced. And one hormone is especially interesting – the hormone oxytocin – the levels of this hormone increased.
And you have a lot of positive effects from that because it governs the whole system for calm and connectedness.
DW: If one has a pet, does that offer any kind of benefits just on its own?
Dr. Beetz: I would say yes, if you have contact with animals or you visit a horse every second day that's on the pasture where you go for a walk, you get some kind of interaction that can have positive effects for you.
It's not the same as a structured therapy or an educational approach. But yes, if you manage to pet the horse and both of you enjoy it, it can reduce your stress level and you can feel more connected and calm.
Studies have shown that pet owners actually are, on average, a bit healthier than non-pet owners. They sleep better. They have better cardiovascular parameters, like blood pressure. They have a higher survival rate after heart attacks.
DW: Does that mean that any animal can be used in animal-assisted interventions?
Dr. Beetz: No. We, at the International Society for Animal-Assisted Therapy, say that only certain species should be used. These species are usually domesticated species like dogs, cats, horses, cows, goats, sheep. But also llamas and alpacas are very popular. They also have a long history of being domesticated by humans.
This is important because these animals are more used to and they are less stressed by interactions with humans.
In addition to being a domesticated species, they also need to be well socialized with humans from a young age so that they are not stressed by the interaction and they actually enjoy it.
This group of animal species are also the most suitable for animal protection reasons. We also do not recommend working with snakes or other kinds of reptiles because there is a risk of salmonella infections.
So there's a lot of thought behind it. Even though you will find different examples where other species like dolphins are used, this is a wild species. But in the field we say, please keep it to domesticated animals.
DW: Are there certain limitations to animal-assisted interventions?
Dr. Beetz: One exclusion criteria could be that there's a strong allergy to the species involved.
People who are immunosuppressed or on immunosuppressants due to some kind of sickness are also at higher risk.
And another reason could be that people are just afraid of certain kinds of animals. Then you really need to consider, if you're going to take the time to first work on that fear and then have the positive effects of animal-assisted interventions, or if another kind of animal-free therapy would be better.
Dr. Andrea Beetz works at the IUBH University of Applied Sciences in Germany. Beetz is also active on the board of the International Society for Animal-Assisted Therapy (ISAAT).
The interview was conducted by Mira Fricke for TV and has been edited for clarity.
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Kate Whiting
From Greta Thunberg to Sir David Attenborough, the headline-grabbing climate change activists and environmentalists of today are predominantly white. But like many areas of society, those whose voices are heard most often are not necessarily representative of the whole.
1. Wangari Maathai<p>In 2004, Professor Maathai made history as the <a href="https://www.nobelpeaceprize.org/Prize-winners/Prizewinner-documentation/Wangari-Maathai" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">first African woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize</a> for her dedication to sustainable development, democracy and peace. She started the <a href="http://www.greenbeltmovement.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Green Belt Movement</a>, a community-based tree planting initiative that aims to reduce poverty and encourage conservation, in 1977. More than 51 million trees have been planted helping build climate resilience and empower communities, especially women and girls. Her environmental work is celebrated every year on <a href="http://www.greenbeltmovement.org/node/955" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Wangari Maathai Day on 3 March</a>.</p>
2. Robert Bullard<p>Known as the 'father of environmental justice,' Dr Bullard has <a href="https://www.unep.org/championsofearth/laureates/2020/robert-bullard" target="_blank">campaigned against harmful waste</a> being dumped in predominantly Black neighborhoods in the southern states of the U.S. since the 1970s. His first book, Dumping in Dixie, highlighted the link between systemic racism and environmental oppression, showing how the descendants of slaves were exposed to higher-than-average levels of pollutants. In 1994, his work led to the signing of the <a href="https://www.nrdc.org/experts/albert-huang/20th-anniversary-president-clintons-executive-order-12898-environmental-justice" target="_blank">Executive Order on Environmental Justice</a>, which the <a href="https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2021/01/27/executive-order-on-tackling-the-climate-crisis-at-home-and-abroad/" target="_blank">Biden administration is building on</a>.<br></p>
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Pollution has a race problem. Elizabethwarren.com
3. John Francis<p>Helping the clean-up operation after an oil spill in San Francisco Bay in January 1971 inspired Francis to <a href="https://planetwalk.org/about-john/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">stop taking motorized transport</a>. Instead, for 22 years, he walked everywhere. He also took a vow of silence that lasted 17 years, so he could listen to others. He has walked the width of the U.S. and sailed and walked through South America, earning the nickname "Planetwalker," and raising awareness of how interconnected people are with the environment.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="09b968e0e9964e31406954dcea45981d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/vgQjL23_FoU?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
4. Dr. Warren Washington<p>A meteorology and climate pioneer, Dr. Washington was one of the first people to develop atmospheric computer models in the 1960s, which have helped scientists understand climate change. These models now also incorporate the oceans and sea ice, surface water and vegetation. In 2007, the <a href="https://www.cgd.ucar.edu/pcm/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Parallel Climate Model (PCM)</a> and <a href="https://www.cesm.ucar.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Community Earth System Model (CESM)</a>, earned Dr. Washington and his colleagues the <a href="https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/peace/2007/summary/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Nobel Peace Prize</a>, as part of the <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change</a>.</p>
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5. Angelou Ezeilo<p>Huge trees and hikes to pick berries during her childhood in upstate New York inspired Ezeilo to become an environmentalist and set up the <a href="https://gyfoundation.org/staff/Angelou-Ezeilo" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Greening Youth Foundation</a>, to educate future generations about the importance of preservation. Through its schools program and Youth Conservation Corps, the social enterprise provides access to nature to disadvantaged children and young people in the U.S. and West Africa. In 2019, Ezeilo published her book <em>Engage, Connect, Protect: Empowering Diverse Youth as Environmental Leaders</em>, co-written by her Pulitzer Prize-winning brother Nick Chiles.</p>
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