Canine animal-assisted therapy (AAT) can improve the mental health and well-being of incarcerated individuals. An in-person AAT program has been offered at the Regional Psychiatric Center (RPC) in Saskatoon, Canada, since 2014 with St. John Ambulance Therapy Dog Program (SJATDP) dog and handler teams. The program transitioned, for the first time, to a virtual format with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. This exploratory research examines whether and how a virtual offering of AAT at RPC can provide positive benefits to forensic psychiatric patients. Overall, the findings reveal an understanding of the virtual sessions from patient, handler, and clinician perspectives, including (a) differences between connection in virtual versus in-person facilitation, (b) the role of technology, (c) the unique role of the handler, and benefits for patients, including (d) emotional support, (e) positive effects on mental health, and (f) feelings of hope, normalcy, and deinstitutionalization despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Using an online platform allowed patients who had had preexisting interactions with the therapy dog teams to form or continue their connection/bond and benefit from AAT during the COVID-19 pandemic, a time when in-person contact was not possible. Therefore, this research provides support for the use of web-based video conferencing in facilitating AAT sessions with incarcerated psychiatric patients.
Scheck, Haley; Williamson, Linzi; and Dell, Colleen A.
"Understanding Psychiatric Patients’ Experience of Virtual Animal-Assisted Therapy Sessions during the COVID-19 Pandemic,"
People and Animals: The International Journal of Research and Practice: Vol. 5
Available at: https://docs.lib.purdue.edu/paij/vol5/iss1/6