Developed to benefit both people and animals, our AAI program aims to change people’s attitude towards stray dogs by emphasising their societal value as therapy and companion dogs. One of the desired side effects is that through a change in perspective about stray dogs, people would also consider adopting strays as companion animals.
In an effort to prove that stray dogs can be an immense asset to the society, FOUR PAWS became the first organization to launch an Animal Assisted Intervention (AAI) program in which former stray dogs are selected, trained and certified by experts to become therapy dogs.
Within the AAI program, Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) is a type of complementary therapy that involves guided interaction with animals to facilitate healing and rehabilitation of patients with acute or chronic disease. It is believed to have an array of benefits, including personal and social development, increased self-esteem, improved mental health, better social skills and increased empathy and nurturing skills.
The current pandemic and measures to fight it, are affecting everyone including our animals. But this crisis can be especially challenging for people with emotional and behavioral health issues. Some restrictions across Europe led to the temporary closure of our Animal Assisted Interventions (AAI) centers in Ukraine, Bulgaria and Romania including the suspension of therapy sessions. In response to this, the teams have found many creative ways to deal with this new situation and continue their much-needed work:
- Our team of dog handlers in Ukraine are now training their former stray dogs at home and participating in online training with animal behaviorists.
- Our psychologists in Bulgaria set up online meetings with the children, dog handlers and their therapy dogs, who recognize the children’s voices and react to it by waving their tails and looking around to find them.
- In Romania, the team launched an online dog-assisted reading program for children that are no longer able to continue their therapy at the center in Bucharest. Our dog handlers also provide regular basic obedience training to a number of dogs in our partner shelter Speranta to increase their chances to be adopted.
Why stray dogs can make such good therapy dogs
Many stray dogs make especially good companions for humans. They are sensitive, reliable and have remarkable energy - qualities that enable them to work as therapy dogs. Working with them requires careful and regular training by experienced dog trainers, a suitable location and special equipment. Our teams provide comprehensive training for a number of specially selected dogs. All of them must meet international requirements, only then are they ready to start their new lives as therapy dogs.
After receiving the necessary licenses to perform animal assisted interventions with special target groups and signing new agreements with partners just last year, FOUR PAWS was ready to conduct animal assisted activities and animal assisted education in addition to AAT in Bulgaria. The team did great work in 2019 with over 200 sessions for children with learning difficulties and disabilities, and adults with disabilities and behavior problems. We also welcomed Kaya, a new former stray dog, into the project.
FOUR PAWS set the first steps of a new project in Ukraine by training former strays to become therapy dogs and partnering with key institutions in preparation of the first therapy activities. We selected Lisa to become the first therapy dog in this project. In 2019, the team conducted a total of 65 sessions for children and adults with disabilities, elderly people and stress relief for university students. Lisa is now fully trained and a great support during these sessions, while another dog, Busia, has now been selected and is currently in training.
2017: Bulgaria 'Canistherapy'
After obtaining the license from the Bulgarian Agency for Child Protection to perform animal assisted therapy for children with disabilities, FOUR PAWS signed an agreement with the Municipality of Sofia and became the first organization to launch an AAI project with former stray dogs in Bulgaria. Smiley was our first stray selected and trained to become a therapy dog. After a short pilot phase, Smiley and the team successfully delivered the first AAT sessions in Lozenets’ Center for children and adolescents. Shortly after, Shoko joined the team and became our second therapy dog.
2017: Romania #NoStressWithFourPaws
In an effort to meet the needs of a constantly changing society, our team developed 'No Stress with Four Paws', an animal assisted intervention aimed at reducing stress among students and company employees through interactions with dogs.
In early 2016, FOUR PAWS opened the first AAT centre in Bucharest where today children are offered weekly support and complementary therapy from our dogs Mura, Mulan, Toto, Tuca, Bumi and their handlers, completely free of charge. That same year, the scope of the project expanded beyond AAI into research in the field of human-animal interaction and through a partnership with the Psychology Faculty of the University of Bucharest into education, by offering practice and education opportunities to students.
2012: Romania 'Dogs for People'
After a long period of research on the subject, the project was extended to elderly persons. A cooperation with the nursing home 'Floare Rosie' in Bucharest was arranged in which the team pays regular visits to about 100 residents, who experience age related physical and psychological problems. The elderly patients have reacted very well to the therapy dogs, the dogs help to reduce anxiety and depression and decrease loneliness through increasing social interaction among the residents, as well as with the dogs and their handlers.
2004: Romania 'Dogs for People'
FOUR PAWS launched an AAI project with former stray dogs in Romania. The 'Dogs for People' project started with a mobile team providing therapy sessions in special centres for children with disabilities. The team with their therapy dogs regularly visited 32 children and young people with emotional and physical challenges each week (some of them in specialized institutions, some in a room provided by the Child Protection Authority) and all the sessions are supervised by a psychotherapist.
FOUR PAWS promotes its messages internationally through memberships with international organizations working in the field of Dog Population Management and Animal Assisted Interventions. FOUR PAWS is a full member of the International Companion Animal Management (ICAM) coalition as well as a member of the International Association for Human Animal Interaction Organisations (IAHAIO) and a member of Animal Assisted Intervention International (AAII).