U of U students learn how animals can assist therapy

SALT LAKE CITY — University of Utah students are receiving their first opportunity to learn more about animal assisted therapy, and even though the class is small, instructors say students are learning big things.

One service dog is known as Stevie, the blind wonder dog. Student Allison O’Connor was quick to sing the dog’s praises.

“This dog`s amazing,” she said.“I`m a big fan of Stevie… I follow him on Facebook.”

Volunteer Pet Handler Jennifer Milner said Stevie piques people’s interest.

“People have a lot of different reactions with Stevie,” she said. “He`s blind, and a lot of people are curious, and they want to ask questions about, you know: How does he do? How does he function in the world? And then a lot of people don`t even want to talk to me; they want to get on the floor and interact with Stevie and just have that moment of connection with him.”

Stevie has been a teacher’s assistant in the first ever animal-assisted therapy class at the U of U. The class teaches students how to incorporate animals into therapy sessions.

Deborah Carr, U of U adjunct professor, said she finds the animals impressive.

‘I see animals do things that I couldn’t do as a human being,” she said. “I just go wow, this is so cool. I’ve got to tell more people about it. We’ve got to make this more available to people.”

The class is available to students seeking a master’s degree in social work, and even though there isn’t a lot of research yet on involving animals in therapy, the instructors believe in it.

“There`s tons of information, anecdotal information, that tells us that it really does work, and deep in our hearts we know it works, but the way to move it along to a respected treatment modality is to teach the therapists about it,” Carr said.

Instructors said they hope the class gains popularity, which would allow them to expand the program even further.

Related story: Four-legged friend helps children through traumatic experiences

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