Animal-assisted interventions in Canada: AAI as potential field guide in/to alterity relations

Cassandra Hanrahan1 & Amberlee Boulton2

1School of Social Work, Dalhousie University
2Cumming School of Medicine, Department of Community Health Sciences,
University of Calgary, Health Sciences Centre

Ideas about non-human animals within animal-assisted interventions (AAI) and the general public are changing and evolving. There is, however, a dearth of empirical investigation on those changes in the AAI field. Drawing from four key findings of a qualitative Nova Scotia study that investigated AAI from the perspectives of AAI practitioners in a variety of settings, this paper examines the inter- and intra- relational dynamics of AAI in a Canadian province through 36 semi-structured interviews and four related thematic findings that emerged as illuminating trends. These themes form the basis of this paper: 1) AAI Entry point is personally motivated and AAI dyads are highly relational and intuitive; 2) AAI practitioner initiative is central to continuance and development; 3) AAI theoretical framework(s), competencies, ethics, and standards of practice are informally eclectic; and 4) Attitudes towards animals involve limited ideas about justice. An overarching purpose of this analysis was to examine the changing/evolving views of companion animals from tools/property to sentient partners within AAI practitioner perspectives and what this looks like in practice. Participants discussed entry points into AAI as personally motivated within highly relational human-animal AAI dyads. While the researchers determined practitioner initiative as crucial to AAI continuance and development, they also ask what this can tell us about how the field of AAI might contribute to or limit a critical reconceptualization of humanity; about understandings and experiences of individual and collective wellbeing within an interconnected web of life. Using a posthumanist theoretical lens and a constructivist approach to knowledge making about animal-assisted intervention and human animal interaction, this paper provides a substantial departure from the usual positivist epistemological lens used in animal assisted intervention and human animal interaction (AAI –HAI) scholarship and offers the potential to transform AAI/HAI scholarship. Exploring key findings through the emergent overarching theme of relationality, this paper aims to strengthen AAI services through a critical and creative discussion of practitioner motivations and resolve; experiences and perceived outcomes of working with and drawing inspiration from animal partners for clients and providers alike; and conceptions/misconceptions of animal justice. The broader changes in how interrelationships between people, other animals, and the environment are being conceptualized and understood must be integrated into the evolving perspectives of AAI practitioners. The authors respond with prescient optimism to the strengths and challenges of AAI in a time of transgression of planetary boundaries involving global pandemics, climate change/injustice, environmental degradation.

Click here to read the full article.

Keywords: AAI, Animal Welfare, interrelationships
Posted in Pre-Publication Articles