Developed to benefit both animals and people, our AAI programme 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) programme in which former stray dogs are selected, trained and certified by experts to become therapy dogs.
Within the AAI programme, 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.
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 carefully selected dogs. All of our dogs must meet international requirements, only then they are ready to start their new lives as therapy dogs.
2020: Adapting in new ways
The COVID-19 crisis, and measures to fight it, is affecting everyone including our animals. But this crisis can be especially challenging for people with emotional and behavioural health issues. The measures put up by governments across Europe led to the temporary closure of our AAI centres 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 trainings with animal behaviourists. Our psychologists in Bulgaria set up live online meetings with the children, dog handlers and their therapy dogs, who recognise 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 programme for children that are no longer able to continue their therapy at the centre 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. The teams will continue with these initiatives for as long as the government measures are in place.
In early 2019, after receiving the necessary licenses to perform animal assisted interventions with special target groups and signing new agreements with partners, FOUR PAWS was ready to conduct its AAI work in Bulgaria. The team conducted over 200 sessions for children with learning difficulties and disabilities, and with adults with disabilities and behaviour disorders. Later in the year, a former stray dog Kaya joined the project as a new therapy dog.
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. When Lisa was fully trained she was a great support during these sessions, while another dog, Busia, was selected and is currently in training. Lisa and her handler have since left the organisation to peruse other adventures.
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 organisation 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 2017, in an effort to meet the needs of a constantly changing society, our team started the 'No Stress with FOUR PAWS' project, an animal assisted intervention aimed at reducing stress among students and company employees through interactions with former stray 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'
In 2012, after a long period of research, the project was extended to elderly people. A cooperation with the nursing home 'Floare Rosie' in Bucharest was established and the team started visiting about 80 residents with age-related physical and psychological disorders. The elderly patients react very well to the therapy dogs who help them reduce their anxiety, depression and loneliness through more social interaction amongst the residents and with the therapy dogs.
2004: Romania 'Dogs for People'
In 2004, FOUR PAWS launched its AAI Programme 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.
Under the supervision of a psychotherapist, the team and their dogs paid weekly visits to 32 children and young people with emotional and physical challenges in specialised institutions and in a room provided by the Child Protection Authority.
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).