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Animal-Assisted Therapy in Child Welfare

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IHAC Comm. Team

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Animals and Human Health 2018

Article  • Feature  •
Woman smiling kneeling next to Charles the therapy dog.

Rachel Pletcher completed the Animals and Human Health online professional development certificate in 2018 through the Institute for Human-Animal Connection. Rachel always dreamed of doing animal-assisted therapy and having a dog as her co-therapist. After completing her undergraduate degree and graduate school, she still didn’t feel fully prepared to go about animal-assisted therapy in the right way. According to Rachel, “I went through so much training for Charles during the process of certifying him as a therapy dog but found there was little to no training for me. I completed the Animals and Human Health certificate program through IHAC at University of Denver and it was exactly what I had been looking for!”

She is now working at a nonprofit agency, Kids & Families Together (K&FT), in Ventura, California, where she works with families in the child welfare system – foster, adoptive, kinship, and birth families. Rachel is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, a program manager, and has worked at K&FT for eight years. Charles, her therapy dog, has worked at K&FT for three years.

“The Animals and Human Health program prepared me for animal-assisted therapy by giving me a solid foundation of knowledge in working with an animal partner. I learned about animal behavior and training issues, how to respect and protect Charles in the work place, ethical concerns, interventions, and more. I learned to read Charles’ subtle cues when he’s feeling stressed or uncomfortable and may need a break,” Pletcher says. She feels so much more confident in being able to protect Charles and meet his needs now that she understands him better.

Because of the Animals and Human Health program, Rachel was able to develop and implement the animal-assisted therapy program at K&FT, where Charles has been welcomed with open arms. Pletcher describes Charles’ role as, “part of our K&FT family and he has made such an impact on both the clients we serve, as well as on staff. Charles’ presence in the office helps us create the safe, homey, and welcoming environment that’s so important to us. He attends community events, has his adoption story and coloring pages in the lobby for clients, has a page on our website, business cards, and his own column in our quarterly newsletter…Our mission at K&FT is to strengthen relationships by providing safe, supportive help that keeps family members emotionally connected to one another, and our sweet, affectionate Charles helps us fulfill this mission every day!”


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