A Therapy Dog

As the founder of Fur Ball Story, people often ask me what exactly do we do, what are therapy dogs, and what is this Animal Assisted Therapy? Before I tell them what it is, I felt a need to tell them what it’s not, by giving a real-life example of course. So, after I started Fur Ball Story and started making a name for ourselves, a couple of other people started following the same road. In one of the instances, I saw one organization which was conducting a program for increasing sensitivity towards animals in a school with various sort of animals such as birds, dogs, guinea pigs, and rabbits, only one problem with this – students were made to stand in a line and the interaction was a bit transactional as the animals were in their respective crates.

Some people’s opinion is that this is a good concept, no harm in making kids look at animals in crates but makes no mistake that this is not an Animal Assisted Activity.
What Fur Ball Story does is different from this is many ways but allow me to highlight two important aspects that of the above example which we should be wary of.

  1. The animals in the cage were being tortured because a therapy animal needs to be trained and socialized. They also need to be desensitized towards touch, loud noises, big crowds, new spaces, other animals. A trained therapy animal would not need to be caged.
  2. Allowing kids to interact with caged animals will lead to normalization of such a trend hence leading to more animal cruelty cases in the future. Kids being of impressionable age should stay away from such activities; on the other hand, legitimate Animal Assisted Therapy will help them understand empathy, responsibility and promotes sensitivity towards animals.

Now, the dogs at Fur Ball Story, have been raised to work as therapy animals. They love humans as well as fellow dogs. They love it when people pet them and give them belly rubs. How, you ask? This is because when we choose a puppy, we conduct thorough background checks of the breeders/family, genetic history –to ensure his previous generations were absolutely and blindly loved by humans, and their temperament towards other animals is neutral. By doing this, we make sure that our dogs will always have full trust on everyone they meet. Thereafter, we train abiding by the basics of socialization and desensitize them towards various stimuli which might throw off an untrained dog. As the owner of FBS, I am personally responsible for the wellbeing of all my dogs and my staff is handpicked for their skills in training and their love for dogs.

To put it in simple words, if my dogs did not like what they’re doing, then my work would make no sense. If you are interested, I am appending links to some articles corroborating the points I have made above.

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Animal Assisted Interventions: An insight.

While working with animals in the field of mental and physical wellness, the knowledge of both AAT as well as AAI are important, doesn’t matter which specific field one wants to pursue in future.

AAT and AAA fundamentally are different from each other bust some of the aspects complement each other as well. AAT, i.e., Animal Assisted Therapy primarily focuses on improving quality of life in terms of social, mental and cognitive aspects whereas AAA, i.e, Animal Assisted Activities focuses on improvement of physical and lifestyle expenses where mental health and well-being are added benefits. The 2 most important factor differentiating between AAA or AAT are:

  • Health being a holistic matter
  • The method of therapy

It is important to note that the no animal is specifically labelled as AAT animal or AAA animal. AAT has the following attributes:

  • Goal directed process.
  • Animals draw out specific response
  • Nature of role more important than specific training of animal
  • There are different types of trained therapists and therapies AAA has the following attributes:

a. Specifically trained animal
b. Helps improve mood of the person and spread positivity
c. Offers physical support and along with natural and emotional support
d. Promotes socialization

Example: An animal with a handler may visit a residence where a tragedy has happened to calm down the family without the presence of a therapist will be considered as AAA, whereas an animal with a trained therapist when visits a home of an autistic children to improve cognitive functions, will be considered as AAI.

From the above understanding of AAA and AAT, what we understand is, that in both the scenarios, it’s our emotional state which ends up getting affected as well, in a positive way. As per layman’s definition, an emotion simply means ‘a strong feeling such as love, anger, fear, etc.’, but it is a lot more complex than that. Emotions are an indication of our feeling and often drives our physical actions as well. There are a lot of famous theories on emotions but the 2 most important are by Paul Eckman and Robert Putchik. Emotions can be understood the best by its subjective, physiological and emotional responses.

The amount of influence pets have on our emotional state is way off the charts. Only once we have a pet, we realize how they drive our emotions in day to day life. From something very basic like coming home to a happy dog with wagging tail or something complicated like brushing a horse, it all affects an emotional state, rather improves it, by giving us a sense of unconditional love as well as personal achievement. Get Healthy, Get a Dog, a brand-new Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School and the Angell Animal Medical Center, delves into the many ways that dogs can improve the lives of humans. This report also covers the pet adoption process, canine nutrition, and ways to benefit from canine contact even if you’re not a pet owner. With the guidance offered in this Special Health Report, owning a dog can be one of the most physically and emotionally rewarding relationships you’ll ever experience. It can be concluded that animals, despite their physical assistance role, do always provide emotional support and other health benefit such as low BP, low stress levels, lower depression, lower cholesterol, etc.

Coming from a country where there is hardly any focus on stress and mental wellness, which if not treated on time, develops in depression, my area of Animal Assisted Intervention is AAA which focuses on improvement of mood, offer friendship, help in socialization, natural emotional support, fight daily pressure, in stressful environments, such as the IT sector of India. We have dogs going to IT companies for stress reduction activities and employee engagement activities of the software-based employees who often don’t have fixed working hours and deal with high level of work stress. I believe that a presence of a happy dog in such environment can make a lot of difference in the lives of these people by improving their mental state. What I found most interesting about this course is the use of different animals in different types of therapies and specially the last module which emphasizes on how it is equally important to make sure that the animal’s mental and physical health is also not compromised during AAT & AAA. Most of the volunteers need to be aware about the signs of stress in animals when working on field. Because at the end, the animal and the human both should win from the activity.

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The Laws of Pet Parenting

Hello human beings,
Hope you all are good, and all your pets are wagging their tails with joy.
As an advocate fighting for the legal rights of animals, I come across many people having misconceptions and misled views about pet ownership legality and the legal rights of care givers of stray dogs. Today I’d like to share a legal opinion to shed some light on these topics and hopefully clear such misconceptions.

As the number of people keeping dogs as household companions is increasing and as animal lovers are increasingly showing compassion for street dogs by feeding them and providing veterinary and other support, conflicts may sometimes occur between the care givers of dogs and Resident Welfare Association.

Our country endorses the virtues of ahimsa and non-violence. These doctrines have always enabled people to peacefully co-exist with animals. Moreover, the duty to show compassion to all living creatures is a Fundamental Duty cast by Article 51A of the constitution upon all citizens of this country; and the law of land protects the rights of non-humans.

All points of view deserve consideration, and everybody is equal in the eyes of law. The solution therefore lies in recognizing that, and teaching differing points of view, and differing lifestyles with respect. The guidelines issued by Animal Welfare Board of India aims at achieving the same.

As per the guidelines, pet owners rightly consider their pets as family members. A pet is akin to a perennial toddler and therefore deserves the same attention throughout its life as that reserved for a human toddler during infancy. However, pet owners are advised to ensure that their pets are not a source of nuisance to others. In doing so, they may, however, distinguish between reasonable and unreasonable, lawful and unlawful claims as to their pets being a source of nuisance; and no amount of pressure should lead to abandonment of a pet animal. Doing so, is a violation of law. Imagine the plight of a pet who has always lived inside a house and was dependent on its owner for food and shelter. And now, roaming on busy roads, alone, and in fear of being bitten or mauled by other stray dogs.

In our society most of the people (non-dog lovers) consider barking as a nuisance. However, barking is a natural form of expression for a dog and must and has to be tolerated in a society. However, continuous barking can disturb neighbours. Hence, in the AWBI guidelines, pet owners are advised to make every effort to keep their dogs quiet, particularly during night hours. But that doesn’t mean neighbours can force or pressure dog owners in any way to abandon the pets.

As per the guidelines, pet owners are also advised to ensure that their pets are healthy, vaccinated, and clean. Adequate healthcare and regular vaccinations need to be ensured. Sterilization is advised as our country has excessive dog population.

Leashing of pets in public places is also advisable. Leashing of dogs assures passer-by that they are safe and makes them more comfortable when walking in the vicinity of an owner with his pet dog on a leash. Leashing also ensures the safety of the pet from being run over by vehicles on streets, or worse shall, being the cause of accidents. Nowadays, people get their dogs trained for walking on leash and the dogs do so on the streets, but other passer-by may not feel comfortable and don’t know about the fact that the dog is trained to do so. Hence, conflicts arise. Even the canines used and trained by police and bomb squad never walk unleashed. However, RWA and other associations cannot insist on the use of muzzle. Please do remember, the law already provides for penalties for negligent pet owners, which the aggrieved party can avail of.

I come across multiple complaints against RWAs or other associations that dogs and their owners get debarred from using elevators etc. whereas as per the guidelines you cannot be debarred by these associations from the use of lifts or elevators for your dogs, pet owners are also advised to use alternate lifts or elevators if there is more than one working lifts in a building. Please bear in mind that even by obtaining consensus, or even if most of the residences and occupiers want it, RWA and other association cannot legally introduce any sort of ban on the keeping of pet dogs. They cannot insist that small sized dogs are acceptable and large sized dogs are not. They cannot cite dog barking as a valid and compelling reason for any proposed ban or restriction.

Further, in the guidelines it is also advised that pet owners either clean up when the pet defecates in public premises or participate in other solution for maintaining cleanliness. Such civic sense is the need of the hour in our country, and it is also courtesy to other users of public spaces. Pet owners are also advised to take the initiative to discuss with their RWA’s ways and means to dispose of pet excreta. For example, pet corners can be designated, in which pets can be trained or encouraged to relieve themselves; and a corner of the complex/park can be designated as area where pet excreta can be collected and deposited and composted, using sawdust, etc. Such behaviour may generate positivity and greater acceptability of pet dogs and even street dogs. However, it is clarified that it is for each residential community and complex to decide which method works best for them, and solutions cannot be imposed on anybody. I get multiple cases in which RWA imposed fines on pet owners and care givers for pet defecation in public premises, I want to make it very clear that it is illegal. There should be co-operation between RWA and pet owners.

If the residence or occupiers that have pets are not violating any municipal or other laws, it is not permissible for RWA or other association to object to their having pets as companions. The general body cannot frame bye laws or amend them in a manner that is at variance with the laws of the country. Even by complete majority, a general majority cannot adopt an illegality.

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