The Quick Answer
At Healing Hooves, we work with several friendly barn cats, a dog, and chickens in addition to horses. In the past we have incorporated work with donkeys, rabbits and guinea pigs. This is however stepping into the broader field of Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) or Animal Assisted Interventions (AAI) which brings with it considerations, responsibilities and requirements, some of which we discuss below.
The Longer Answer
While most EFW certifying bodies (including Pro-EFW) only certify you to work with equines – horses, donkeys and mules – the reality is that most of us have other animals whom our clients may want to meet and interact with. What this means for you and your practice will depend on several factors including the nature of your work, your client base, and the species of animal you choose to include in your work, or to simply have on your premises. Remember that your responsibility for client and animal well being and safety applies as much when a client picks up your barn cat or throws a ball for your dog as it does when they interact with your horses.
If you plan to incorporate non-equines into your equine therapy practice, I recommend you give some thought to the following areas of consideration.
Make sure that your insurance (commercial and professional) includes coverage for non-equines which matches your scope of practice, the work you plan to do, and the animals you will be incorporating. We will be talking further about insurance in our next blog post.
Incorporating different animals increases the potential for allergies. Be sure to let clients know in advance what species you work with/ have on site, and to ask about any allergies. If you provide allergy medication make sure you have parental consent before giving this to any clients who are minors.
Client comfort level
Not all clients will feel comfortable with all species. I image that snake or spider assisted therapy would be a bit of a hard sell! At Healing Hooves, we communicate with all clients prior to the first session regarding the animals they have the option to work with and ask about their comfort level and preference in each case.
Client Safety (Physical and Emotional)
Different animals present the potential for different risks, and a key part of our responsibility is always to keep our clients physically and emotionally safe during sessions. This means that just as we need to consider client safety within all our equine practices, interactions with other animals also need to be safe for our clients. This impacts species and individual animal selection, training and care, as well as our decisions around who works with which animal.
Pro-EFW have comprehensive requirements around client safety as do most certifying bodies and thus safety is explored and discussed during all trainings at Healing Hooves. While our primary focus is upon equine work we extend this to apply to the other animals worked with at Healing Hooves. At our Exploration training we explore safety through mini case studies drawn from real life examples during which we consider who is at risk (client, animal, facilitator), what the risks are, and how the risk could be mitigated and/ or avoided. These include scenarios with non-equines and we encourage you to bring your own case studies for us to discuss.
Animal Safety and Well being (Physical and Emotional)
As introduced within our prior blog The Role of the Horse in Equine Therapy the Pro-EFW certification program includes a significant focus on the physical and emotional needs and well being of the equines we work with, grounded in the underlying belief that equines are sentient beings.
I believe that this sentience, and thus our responsibility, applies to all the species of animals we work with.
We need to be constantly assessing our animals’ well being and comfort level in, and suitability for, this work, give them lots of time off, allow them to retire when they are ready, and take care of their needs. How we do this is going to be different for different species. For example, most cats will be pretty good at setting their own boundaries about who they interact with and when, while a dog or rabbit may need more support. As with our horses it comes down to knowing the species, knowing the individual animals, listening, and then acting on their behalf as and when needed.
For example, at Healing Hooves, in addition to our horses we have several cats and a border collie. Our border collie, Maggie, loves to meet and greet clients and to chase the occasional ball. We also regularly talk about her antics and have even written one of our therapeutic stories about her. But there is no way Maggie would feel comfortable joining us in the office for a counselling session, and for everyone’s safety we keep her separate when we work with the horses.
Our cats also have preferences. Max starts off most sessions sitting on the client’s feet to make sure they notice him and pick him up, while two of our cats are rarely seen by any client. They are friendly and affectionate family cats but have chosen not to be therapy cats, except on very rare occasions. We honour their boundaries and the possibility that these will change over time.
Certification and Training
As noted in our earlier articles Who Should I Certify With in Equine Therapy and How Long Does it Take to Certify in Equine Therapy and How Much Does it Cost I recommend that you have training, experience and be certified in the approach you plan to follow, with your client population, and with the animal/s you plan to work with.
Most EFW certifying bodies only certify you for your work with equines: horses, donkeys and mules.
If your ‘non-equine’ work will be limited to your clients playing with or cuddling your friendly barn cats at the start or end of their session or reading stories about your dog and building this into your equine work, then the training we provide at Healing Hooves and certification through EFW Canada is likely sufficient to prepare you for this work, provided you screen all animals who will be interacting with your clients and confirm your insurance coverage extends to their involvement. Our facilitators are trained and certified in AAT as well as in EFW, much of what we teach is applicable to non-equines, and we regularly incorporate our barn cats and occasionally our dog, into both our client sessions and training workshops. As noted above, you need to extend the considerations around ethics, care and safety (physical and emotional) to include all the animals that will be interacting with your clients, and check your insurance coverage.
If your ‘non-equine” work will be with a more specialised or exotic species, if it becomes a significant part of your practice, and/ or if you plan to travel with your animal(s) to public facilities (e.g. a school or nursing home) I would recommend you explore an AAT certification program which includes a focus upon working with that specific species and likely also certification for your therapy animal partner. There are many online programs that offer AAT training, and we also highly recommend the training programs from Eileen Bona at Dreamcatcher Nature Assisted Therapy near Edmonton.
If you plan to do visitation type programming, to take any of your animals ‘on the road’ with you, or to have significant client interactions with non-equines, you should explore getting these animals certified. There are various programs which will certify animals and their handlers for visitation programs. Again, Eileen Bona at Dreamcatcher Nature Assisted Therapy is a wealth of information in this area. Pet Partners (formerly the Delta Society) is also a good resource.
There are currently no programs in Canada I am aware of that will certify a horse for EFW, however selecting and training your EFW horses, and attending to their physical and emotional needs before, during and after client work, is something that is covered within all Pro-EFW approved training. At Healing Hooves, we introduce this during our exploration training with discussions around the role of the horse, safety, ethics and the impact of this work upon the horse. We then extend this during both weeks of focus training with a whole day of each training dedicated to exploring and applying a horsemanship approach that fits well within Pro-EFW. Pro-EFW have comprehensive requirements in this area, both in terms of what is taught at training workshops and the skills you are required to demonstrate.
Interaction Between Different Species
In addition to considering the individual needs, risks and benefits of each species you also need to think about how they will interact with each other. We are fortunate that our dog, Maggie, gets along well with our cats (the cats are in charge of course) but we soon learned that having free range chickens was not going to work. We also are very cautious with dogs around horses. Many equine insurance policies actually become invalidated if there is a loose dog on the premises. Our policy at Healing Hooves is that our dog is around at the start and end of the session (provided both the client and Maggie are comfortable with this) but she goes into the house or tack room before we bring any horses in.
Whatever animal you work with, the health and quality of your relationship with that animal is critical – for them, for your clients and for you. Most of this work is relationship based, and most of our clients our struggling with relationship concerns and needs. We need to practice and model good relationships in order to create a healing environment for our clients, and in an equine or animal assisted therapy program this applies to our relationships with our animals. This means spending time with our animals, getting to know them well, admitting and addressing it when we go through times of struggle.
The beauty of this is that it ends up being so good for us; remember all the healing benefits this work and being with animals brings to our clients? We get to experience it too.
At Healing Hooves all our work is done at our facility with our animals who we have long term relationships with. Our work is very relationship based and we have found through experience that trying to do the work with animals we do not have these relationships with is much less effective. It may be different for you, in which case I would suggest that all the above considerations still apply, so it will be finding a way to make that work with your situation. We have supported professionals in the past who have worked with other people’s horses and have a blog specifically on this area of consideration: Do I need My Own Horses or Facility to Work in Equine Therapy. There are certainly lots of ways to make this work!
At Healing Hooves, we do not allow clients to bring their own animals onsite for a variety of safety reasons and due to the nature of our work. Again, this is not a ‘rule’ for all practitioners in the field and if you can keep things safe for all involved you may be able to do things differently.
One way to safely honour and build upon your clients’ relationships with their animals is by encouraging them to share pictures, share stories and talk about their animals. This includes animals they may have lost and can be a hugely powerful and healing aspect of equine and animal assisted therapies.
Healing Hooves does primarily focus upon equine work, thus if you plan to do much work with non-equines I would recommend you access some of the following resources and do some more research specific to the species and nature of therapy you are interested in.
- CCPA Animal Assisted Counselling in Therapy Chapter
- Dream Catcher Nature Assisted Therapy
- Pet Partners (formerly the Delta Society)
- The Chimo Project
- Your Insurance company or advisor
- Your mental health or education professional association
Note: If you are unsure of any of the terminology or acronyms we used above please refer to our earlier blog postwhere we defined and reviewed these terms for you.
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Next Question in the Series: What insurance is needed in Equine Therapy and where Can I find this?
What about you? If you have any questions you’d like us to answer in this series, or questions on any of the above material, please use the comments section below!