Animals Helping Humans

Wendy Coombe

Session type: Regular forum session
Session duration: 60 minutes

Key words: animal assisted interventions, animal assisted therapy, animal assisted learning, animal assisted activities, assistance animals


Animal-Assisted Interventions is a goal-directed intervention designed to promote improvement in people with intellectual, physical, sensory, cognitive and psycho-social disability in which a specially trained animal-handler team is an integral part. AAI is directed and/or delivered by a practitioner with specialized expertise within the scope of practice of his/her profession. The evidence supports AAI as an innovative and alternative pathway for many disabilities, diseases and conditions.
Currently, there is no Australian comprehensive, central, online portal of independent, up to date animal-assisted interventions (AAI) information with consistent terminology. Australian’s who access International AAI information are in risk of ineffective decision making, due to inconsistent terminology and different legislative frameworks. Research suggests that 95% of AAI participants are self-referred. (Latrobe 2016) and yet AAI information through websites and social media can be overseas content, disjointed, fragmented and confusing.

Without access to up to date Australian AAI information resources, people may be limited in choice and may not know where to find AAI services that meet their needs and models of good practice. ATL aims to address this issue by building Australia’s first national register of Animal-Assisted Intervention practitioners and Assistance Animal service providers.

AAI Treatment can take several forms and may be group or individual in nature. There are different types of animal-assisted interventions and it’s important to note the distinctions.
Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT) includes therapeutic and clinical services that incorporate animals into the therapeutic assessment and treatment process. AAT is delivered by qualified and registered professionals including allied health and medically trained professionals (such as counsellors, psychotherapists, social workers, mental health workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, general practitioners (doctors), speech therapists, occupational therapists, physiotherapists).
Animal-Assisted Learning (AAL) incorporates animals and a facilitator in an ‘experiential’ learning environment to assist an individual or group develop skills or strategies to better manage their personal or professional life. AAL practitioners are trained in their field of expertise to facilitate specific learning outcomes. Can include corporate coaching, leadership, team building, personal development and self-management.
Animal-Assisted Activities (AAA) involves trained animals and their handlers visiting people in hospitals, aged care facilities, schools, universities and other institutions to alleviate stress, depression, pain management and to provide therapeutic relief. These animals are referred to as therapeutic or visitation animals.
Assistance Animals (often dogs “AD”) are trained to perform one or more tasks to help their handler better access public life and manage their condition such as physical impairment, diabetes, eye disease, hearing and vision impairment, seizures, asthma, life threatening allergies, people who experience episodic and serious medical crises (e.g. epilepsy, changes in blood pressure or blood sugar); and people with psychosocial conditions such as PTSD, anxiety, panic attacks, suicidal ideology and other psychological conditions.

About the presenter/s

On 20 November 2014, Animal Therapies Ltd director Wendy Coombe went to work like any other day as a senior manager for a large ASX-listed corporation. However, that afternoon – with no memory of how she got home – her life took a dramatic turn. A critical path for Wendy’s recovery came in the form of an Assistance Dog called Jack.
The wide-reaching therapeutic benefits of animal-assisted interventions and assistance animals are now well documented, but Wendy’s personal experience identified some major gaps in the sector within Australia.
Until now, there has been no national organisation advancing health through animal-assisted interventions (AAI) and assistance animals (AA) as a whole.

Animal Therapies Ltd, a registered Health Promotion Charity, was established on 21 February 2018. It offers an impartial lens creating linkages, partnerships and joint initiatives between recipients, the private, public, education & community sectors.