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Dec/Jan 2010Vol. 10, No. 10Using Therapy Animals to Help Child Maltreatment Victims

American Humane, an organization dedicated to protecting children and animals, has developed a program aimed at providing registered therapy animals to children in need. The Therapy Animals Supporting Kids (TASK) Program encourages child welfare and other professionals to use therapy animals while working with children who have been abused, neglected, or have witnessed violence. Program creators suggest that this type of therapy can be used with traumatized children who often find it difficult to speak about their experiences, as the animals can help these individuals open up during the healing process.

Allie Phillips and Diana McQuarrie have developed an implementation guide, American Humane TASK Program Manual, which has two main goals: (1) to address the practical issues involved with setting up an animal-assisted therapy program and safely working with therapy animals and (2) to outline the legal implications of using therapy animals effectively in work with children. The manual describes the proper handling of therapy animals when working with children who have suffered maltreatment, emphasizing that this specialized field requires extensive training. It also provides guidance for agencies on finding an appropriate handler-animal therapy team to join an agency's treatment team.

The manual identifies six situations in which incorporating therapy animals may be appropriate:

  • Greeting children at a children's advocacy center or other agency locations
  • Forensic interviews or evaluations
  • Medical examinations
  • Individual or group therapy sessions
  • Court preparation
  • Courtroom testimony   

Other sections of the manual describe a short case study of the use of a therapy animal (dog) with a young girl who had been a victim of sexual abuse. It also provides examples of several child advocacy centers and one prosecutor's office that routinely use therapy animals to help children who have been victims of abuse.

Find out more about TASK on the American Humane website:

Access the TASK guidebook on the American Humane website: (1,105 KB)