Animal-Assisted Interventions

The International Association of Human-Animal Interaction Organizations (IAHAIO) defines animal-assisted interventions (AAIs) as “a goal-oriented and structured intervention that intentionally includes or incorporates animals in health, education, and human services (e.g., social work) for the purpose of therapeutic gains in humans. Animal assisted interventions incorporate human-animal teams in human services such as Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT), Animal Assisted Education (AAE), or Animal Assisted Activity (AAA). They also include Animal Assisted Coaching (AAC).” We refer the reader to the IAHAIO White Paper[1] on this topic for definitions of individual interventions listed above.

The ASPCA believes that the well-being of animal participants in AAIs must receive the same level of consideration as the potential benefits to human participants. Accordingly, it is the position of the ASPCA that:

  • Only domesticated animals should be involved in interventions. Domesticated animals (e.g., dogs, cats, horses, farm animals, guinea pigs, rats, birds) are those animals that have been adapted for social interactions with humans. Domesticated animals must be well-socialized with humans and trained with humane techniques. Wild and exotic species (e.g., dolphins, elephants, capuchin monkeys, prairie dogs, arthropods, reptiles), even tame ones, should not be involved in interactions.
  • AAIs should only be performed with the assistance of animals in good health, both physically and emotionally.
  • The training and evaluation of AAI human-animal teams should conform to the guidelines developed by IAHAIO[1] and Pet Partners[2].
  • Animals for AAIs should be sourced from shelter or rescue facilities where feasible.
  • The use of untrained and unevaluated not-yet adopted shelter animals in AAIs is generally not recommended due to the potential stressors and risks.
    • Shelter mascots may be an appropriate exception when shelters are very familiar with them and know if/when they are suited to such work.
    • Other AAI programs involving unadopted shelter animals may be an appropriate exception where the animals’ unadopted status is foundational to the intervention model and an express goal of the intervention is to improve the animals’ adoptability and/or quality of life. Examples may include shelter dogs or wild horse training programs that pair animals with veterans or with individuals in the correctional system. The use of shelter animals in such programs must be carefully weighed as to the relative risks and benefits.
  • All individuals involved in the delivery of AAIs must have adequate knowledge about the behavior needs, health, and indicators of stress of the animals involved.
  • Provisions should be made to limit the frequency and duration of interactions between animals and people in AAI settings.
  • When animals reside full-time in facilities of any kind, there should be a designated staff position with the responsibility for providing care and ensuring the well-being of the resident animal(s), including during times when the facility is closed. 
  • Provisions should be made for the retirement of animals used in AAIs, allowing them to become household pets in their handlers’ homes or other carefully matched placements.