National Reference Centre for Animal Assisted Interventions (Pet Therapy)
The Istituto Zooprofilattico Sperimentale delle Venezie is the headquarters of the Italian National Reference Centre for Animal Assisted Interventions (Pet Therapy). The Reference centre was established by decree of the Italian Ministry of Health on 18 June, 2009.
In recent decades, there has been a marked change in the relationship between humans and animals, accompanied by growing awareness that humans, particularly children, the elderly and the physically and mentally challenged, have much to gain from this relationship. Having an animal in the home, when properly managed, can be a source of benefit to society and pets can play a key mediating role in educational and therapeutic-rehabilitation processes.
Animal Assisted Intervention (AAI, generally known as Pet Therapy) is consequently becoming more widespread in various public and private settings. AAI can be applied to therapeutic, rehabilitative, educational and recreational settings and involve companion animals. The most commonly used pets are dogs, horses, donkeys, cats and rabbits. Such treatment is chiefly provided to people with physical, neuromotor, mental and physical disorders, whatever their cause, but can also be given to healthy people.
AAI has to comply with legislation in force and, where included in educational and therapeutic-rehabilitation processes, must be based on scientific criteria. Treatment protocols have to envisage patient/user recruitment, project drafting, definition of the objectives, and periodic control of the results achieved. Specialists must be able to work as part of a team with members from very different scientific and cultural spheres. The professionals and providers involved are:
- Project leader (who coordinates the team);
- Veterinary physician (who is responsible for the various aspects of the animals involved);
- Treatment contact person (who manages the person during treatment sessions);
- Animal assistant (who handles the animal during treatment sessions).
Activities and services
The duties of the National Reference Centre for Animal Assisted Interventions (Pet Therapy) are as follows:
- to promote research into standardized operating protocols relating to the health and behavioural control of animals used in AAT (animal-assisted therapy) programmes;
- to strengthen collaborations between human and veterinary medicine in order to identify operating and research synergies which guarantee improvement in outcomes in the sector in question;
- to enhance knowledge on the applicability of the interventions in given categories of patients, as the elderly, autistic children, the mentally challenged;
- to organize and manage training pathways;
- to collect data and disseminate information to the international scientific community.
In cooperation with the Italian Ministry of Health, the Reference centre has drawn up national guidelines for standardizing the operating protocols for animal-assisted therapy and harmonizing the work performed by providers. The guidelines also provide details on training pathways for professionals and providers involved in the multidisciplinary team. The document is currently (December 2014) being finalized for the approval of the Italian State-Region Conference.
The Centre receives local community project initiatives and, through a Pre-feasibility Committee and Technical-Scientific Ethics Board, evaluates proposals and gives opinions on feasibility based on the principles laid down in the guidelines. The Centre also handles spontaneous online registrations from local Italian entities that provide AAT, by means of a form that can be downloaded from the Reference Centre website. To date, data have been collected in this way on over 100 facilities.
Projects and collaborations
Nationally, the Centre actively collaborates in the organization of training pathways and research projects with the Istituto Superiore di Sanità (Italian National Institute of Health) based in Rome and the Azienda di Servizi alla Persona “De Piccolellis” of Foggia. They are currently forging links with other entities to foster and develop synergies throughout Italy.
At the international level, the Centre is exploring collaborations with entities already working in the field of AAT, as the alliance with the Fondation A & P Sommer in France. The Centre is also a member of the international organization, IAHAIO, whose mission is to promote human-animal interaction, training, and experiential development, including actions to provide information to policy makers at both national and international level.
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