Up the leash: Exploring canine handlers’ perceptions of volunteering in canine-assisted interventions

Main Article Content

Camille Xinmei Rousseau
John-Tyler Binfet
Freya L.L. Green
Christine Yvette Tardif-Williams
Zakary A. Draper
Allison Maynard

Abstract

ABSTRACT


To date, research on canine-assisted interventions has focused on identifying the effects of spending time with therapy dogs on the well-being of participants and, to a lesser extent, exploring the effects of canine-assisted interventions on therapy dogs as a means of safeguarding canine welfare.  Little empirical attention has focused on understanding the experience of volunteer canine handlers – agents at the heart of the success of canine-assisted interventions. The aim of this exploratory research was to first capture the voice of handlers to better understand their experience as volunteers and second to provide preliminary insights into their well-being.  Sixty volunteer handlers with varying volunteer experience with a canine therapy program at a mid-size Canadian university responded to a series of open-ended prompts related to their volunteer work and completed a battery of well-being measures.  Qualitative findings revealed that most participants identified social benefits to volunteering for themselves (64%) and for their dog (55%). The perceived impact on students (33%) and the ability to help university students (36%) were the most rewarding aspects of volunteering. Although drawn to volunteer by the program itself (36%), motivations to continue volunteering were predominantly associated with personal benefits of volunteering (44%). Most handlers reported no challenges associated with volunteering (73%) and qualified their dog as happy after sessions (71%). Participants commonly described good therapy dogs as relaxed, calm, and respectful (66%) and strong handlers as having good awareness of their dog (48%).  Quantitative findings revealed volunteer handlers reported elevated levels of positive affect (p = < 0.001, = 1.19), greater satisfaction with life (p = < 0.001, = 0.85) and lower levels of avoidant attachment to their therapy dog (p = < 0.001, = -1.16) when compared to normative samples.  Implications for the governing of on-campus programs and handler well-being are discussed.

Article Details

Section
Research papers
Author Biographies

Camille Xinmei Rousseau, Okanagan School of Education University of British Columbia (Okanagan)

Building Academic Retention through K9s (B. A. R. K.)

Okanagan School of Education 

The University of British Columbia

John-Tyler Binfet, Okanagan School of Education University of British Columbia (Okanagan)

Associate Professor 

Director, Building Academic Retention through K9’s (B.A.R.K.) program

Okanagan School of Education

University of British Columbia

Freya L.L. Green, Okanagan School of Education University of British Columbia (Okanagan)

Program Coordinator, Building Academic Retention through K9’s (B.A.R.K.) program

Okanagan School of Education

University of British Columbia

Christine Yvette Tardif-Williams, Department of Child & Youth Studies Brock University

Associate Professor

Department of Child & Youth Studies

Brock University

References

Barker, S. B., Barker, R. T., McCain, N. L., and Schubert, C. M. 2016. A randomized cross-over exploratory study of the effects of visiting therapy dogs on college student stress before final exams. Anthrozoös, 29(1), 35-46. doi:10.1080/08927936.2015.1069988

Cable, A., and Pulcini, B. 2018. Therapy dog handler perspectives on animal-assisted therapy with children. (Unpublished dissertation, Utica College). Available from ProQuest Dissertations and Theses Global database. (UMI 10824114)

Clary, E. G., Snyder, M., Ridge, R. D., Copeland, J., Stukas, A. A., Haugen, J., and Miene, P. 1998. Understanding and assessing the motivations of volunteers: A functional approach. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74(6), 1516. doi:10.1037//0022-3514.74.6.1516

Cobb, S. 1976. Social support as a moderator of life stress. Psychosomatic Medicine, 38(5), 300-314. doi:10.1097/00006842-197609000-00003

Cohen, S., Kamarck, T., and Mermelstein, R. 1983. A global measure of perceived stress. Journal of health and social behavior, 24, 385-396. doi:10.2307/2136404

Collins, K. V. 2014. Animal-assisted therapy: Motives and rewards. (Unpublished dissertation, University of New Hampshire). Available from ProQuest Dissertations and Theses Global database. (ProQuest Number:10824114)

Crossman, M., and Kazdin, A. E. 2015. Animal visitation programs in colleges and universities: An efficient model for reducing student stress. In A. H. Fine (Ed.), Handbook on animal-assisted therapy: Foundations and guidelines for animal-assisted interventions (4th ed., pp. 333-337). New York: Elsevier.

Diener, E., Emmons, R. A., Larsen, R. J., and Griffin, S. 1985. The satisfaction with life scale. Journal of Personality Assessment, 49, 71-75. doi:10.1097/HTR.0000000000000004

Diener, E., Wirtz, D., Tov, W., Kim-Prieto, C., Choi, D., Oishi, S., and Biswas-Diener, R. 2009. New measures of well-being: Flourishing and positive and negative feelings (pp. 143-156). In Assessing well-being (pp. 247-266). Springer, Dordrecht.

Dwyer, F., Bennett, P. C., and Coleman, G. J. 2006. Development of the Monash dog owner relationship scale (MDORS). Anthrozoös, 19(3), 243-256. doi:10.2752/089279306785415592

Fine, A. H., and Weaver, S. J. 2018. The human-animal bond and animal-assisted intervention. In M. van den Bosch, and W. Bird (Eds.), Nature and public health: The role of nature in improving the health of a population. Oxford, UK: Oxford Press, p. 132–138.

Friedmann, E., Galik, E., Thomas, S. A., Hall, S., Cheon, J., …Gee, N. R. 2019. Relationship of behavioral interactions during an animal-assisted intervention in assisted living to health-related outcomes. Anthrozoös, 32, 221-238. doi:10.1080/08927936.2019.1569905

Glenk, L. M. 2017. Current perspectives on therapy dog welfare in animal-assisted interventions. Animals, 7(2), 7-24. doi:10.3390/ani7020007

Hatch, A., 2007. The view from all fours: A look at an animal-assisted activity program from the animals’ perspective. Anthrozoös, 20(1), 37-50. doi:10.2752/089279307780216632

Hawthorne, G. 2006. Measuring social isolation in older adults: development and initial validation of the friendship scale. Social Indicators Research, 77(3), 521-548. doi:10.1007/s11205-005-7746-y

Hinic, K., Kowalski, M. O., Holtzman, K., and Mobus, K. 2019. The effect of a pet therapy and comparison intervention on anxiety in hospitalized children. Journal of Pediatric Nursing, 46, 55-61. doi:10.1016/j.pedn.2019.03.003

Hupcey, J. E. 1998. Clarifying the social support theory‐research linkage. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 27(6), 1231-1241. doi:10.1046/j.1365-2648.1998.01231.x

Kuzara, S., Pendry, P., and Gee, N. R. 2019. Exploring the handler-dog connection within a university-based animal-assisted activity. Animals, 9(7), 402. doi:10.3390/ani9070402

Lee, R. M., Draper, M., and Lee, S. 2001. Social connectedness, dysfunctional interpersonal behaviors, and psychological distress: Testing a mediator model. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 48(3), 310-318. doi:10.1037/0022-0167.48.3.310

Lyubomirsky, S., and Lepper, H. S. 1999. A measure of subjective happiness: Preliminary reliability and construct validation. Social Indicators Research, 46(2), 137-155. doi:10.1023/A:1006824100041

McCullough, M. E., Emmons, R. A., and Tsang, J. A. 2002. The grateful disposition: A conceptual and empirical topography. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 82(1), 112-127. doi:10.1037//0022-3514.82.1.112

Moorhead, J. 2012. Animal-assisted therapy: A volunteer's perspective. (Unpublished dissertation, Texas State University-San Marcos). Retrieved from https://digital.library.txstate.edu/bitstream/handle/10877/4393/MOORHEAD-THESIS.pdf?sequence=1

Ng, Z. Y. Pierce, B. J., Otto, C. M., Buechner-Maxwell, V. A., SIracusa, C., and Were, S. R. 2014. The effect of dog-human interaction on cortisol and behavior in registered animal-assisted activity dogs. Applied Animal Behavior Sciences, 159, 69-81. doi:10.1016/j.applanim.2014.07.009

Ng, Z., Albright, J., Fine, A. H., Peralta, J. 2015. Our ethical and moral responsibility: Ensuring the welfare of therapy animals. In A. H. Fine (Ed.) Handbook on animal-assisted therapy: Foundations and guidelines for animal-assisted interventions (4th ed., pp. 357-373). Burlington: Academic Press. doi:10.1016/B978-0-12-801292-5.00026-2

O'Haire, M. 2010. Companion animals and human health: Benefits, challenges, and the road ahead. Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, 5(5), 226-234. doi:10.1016/j.jveb.2010.02.002

Paige, L. 2010. Kindred spirits: A phenomenological study of the experience of volunteering with a companion animal. (Unpublished dissertation, Pacifica Graduate Institute). Available from ProQuest Dissertations and Theses Global database. (UMI : 3406140)

Pendry, P., and Vandagriff, J. L. 2019. Animal Visitation Program (AVP) reduces cortisol levels of university students: A randomized controlled trial. AERA Open, 5, 1-12. doi:10.1177/2332858419852592

Raes, F., Pommier, E., Neff, K. D., and Van Gucht, D. 2011. Construction and factorial validation of a short form of the self‐compassion scale. Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, 18(3), 250-255. doi:10.1002/cpp.702

Reece, C.M. 2012. A Phenomenological analysis of the lived experience of animal assisted therapy volunteers. Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations Publishing. (UMI 3527964)

Russell, D. 1996. UCLA Loneliness Scale (Version 3): Reliability, validity, and factor structure. Journal of Personality Assessment, 66(1), 20-40. doi:10.1207/s15327752jpa6601_2

Serpell, J. A., Coppinger, R., Fine, A. H., and Peralta, J. M. 2010. Welfare considerations in therapy and assistance animals. In A. H. Fine (Ed.), Handbook on animal-assisted therapy: Theoretical foundations and guidelines for practice (3rd ed., pp. 481-503). New York: Elsevier.

Ward-Griffin, E., Klaiber, P., Collins, H. K., Owens, R. L., Coren, S., and Chen, F. S. 2018. Petting away pre-exam stress: The effect of therapy dog sessions on student well-being. Stress and Health, 34(3), 468-473. doi:10.1002/smi.2804

Watson, D., Clark, L. A., and Tellegen, A. 1988. Development and validation of brief measures of positive and negative affect: The PANAS scales. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54(6), 1063-1070. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.54.6.1063.

Wolcott, H. F. 1990. Transforming qualitative data: Description, analysis, and interpretation. Thousand Oaks, Calif: Sage Publications.

Zilcha-Mano, S., Mikulincer, M., and Shaver, P. R. 2011. An attachment perspective on human–pet relationships: Conceptualization and assessment of pet attachment orientations. Journal of Research in Personality, 45(4), 345-357. doi:10.1016/j.jrp.2011.04.001