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 organisation 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.
In March 2019, the team in Ukraine went to Lviv and with the help of an animal behaviourist they tested, selected and adopted a second stray dog named Busia for the AAI project. The team also hired a new dog handler, who is currently preparing to start basic training with Busia.
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. Lisa, our selected former stray dog, is currently in training to prepare for the first sessions with specific target groups in 2019.
2017: Bulgaria 'Canistherapy'
FOUR PAWS signed an agreement with the Municipality of Sofia and became the first organisation to launch an AAI project with former stray dogs (called Canistherapy) in Bulgaria. Smiley was the first stray dog trained to become a therapy dog. After a short pilot phase, Smiley and our team delivered their first animal assisted activities in Lozenets’ Center for children and adolescents. Shoko joined the team in 2017 and became the 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.
By the end of 2016, our 'Canistherapy project' obtained the license from the Bulgarian Agency for Child Protection to perform animal assisted therapy sessions in the country.
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.
FOUR PAWS launched the process to set up an AAI project in Bulgaria working with former stray dogs of Sofia. A team of experts, including a psychologist and a dog trainer, started the procedures and Smiley was trained as a therapy dog.
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 amongst the residents, as well as with the dogs and their handlers. The cooperation with the nursing home will continue additionally to the work in the AAT centre.
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 specialised institutions, some in a room provided by the Child Protection Authority) and all the sessions are supervised by a psychotherapist.
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.
FOUR PAWS promotes its messages internationally through memberships with international organisations 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).