Animal Assisted Therapy


Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT) is fairly new and is on the cutting-edge of research and development in the therapeutic world. AAT is the incorporation of animals as therapeutic agents into the counseling process; thus, counselors utilize the human-animal bond in goal-directed interventions as part of the treatment process.

AAT is integrated into sessions as the client and counselor progress and are comfortable with this particular type of therapy. AAT may not be appropriate in all situations and settings. The integration of AAT will be delivered and directed by a trained and skilled service provider.

Here at YWCA McLean County Stepping Stones we are excited to have Kate Myers, who has a masters of social work with a certificate in Animal-Assisted Social Work. Kate received her degree from the University Of Denver Graduate School Of Social Work, they are one of the first in the nation to offer a certificate program for Animal-Assisted Social Work. While finishing her schooling, Kate interned at Freedom Service Dogs so she would have the opportunity to learn about how to train and utilize a canine partner in a therapeutic setting.

What is a therapy dog?
A therapy dog is trained to provide comfort and affection to people in a facility setting. Therapy dogs and their owners work together as a team to improve the lives of other people.

Therapy dogs are NOT service dogs. Service dogs are specially trained to provide a specific tasks for a person with special needs. An example of a service dog is a dog who guides an owner who is blind, or a dog who assists someone who has a physical disability. For more information about service dogs, please visit this web page.

Why a therapy dog?
As it is said, ‘dog is man’s best friend,’ but a dog can be a counselor’s best friend too. And when you’re in session, a therapy dog can be your best friend too. Therapy dogs help clients feel more comfortable, calm, and relaxed during sessions, thus studies show an increase in positive client outcomes.

Science has shown us how beneficial therapy dogs can be. Visits from a therapy dog can lower blood pressure and heart rate, reduce patient anxiety and stress, and increase levels of endorphins and oxytocin.

Spending time with animals produces marked improvements in humans, affecting the physical, mental, emotional and social aspects of their well-being.

Healing effects of therapy animal
Mental Benefits

  • Decrease in stress and anxiety, including that from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Decrease in depression, loneliness and feelings of isolation and aggressive behaviors
  • Increase in socialization with an outward focus, including opportunities for laughter and a sense of happiness and well-being
  • Increase in mental stimulation, attention skills, and verbal interactions
  • Increase in spirit, self-esteem, and feeling of acceptance, enabling a patient to further participate in mental and physical therapy; to be more involved in group activities; and to accept social and emotional support 

 Physical Benefits

  • Decrease in blood pressure, heart rate, and the stress hormone cortisol
  • Increase in hormones associated with health and feeling of well-being, including beta-endorphin, beta-phenylethylamine, dopamine, oxytocin, prolactin and serotonin 




Kate and Sammy

Meet Kate and Sammy

Sammy was trained through The Professional Therapy Dog program at Freedom Service Dogs (FSD). FSD pairs shelter dogs with people around the country working to assist those in their community in need of therapeutic support. Sammy was found living on the streets of Denver, CO and was brought to a shelter where a FSD trainer fell in love with his enthusiastic and uplifting personality and adopted him to be trained for use in a therapeutic setting. Sammy loves attention and affection and he is confident and comfortable around people.

Kate received her degree from the University Of Denver Graduate School Of Social Work, they are one of the first in the nation to offer a certificate program for Animal-Assisted Social Work. When Kate met Sammy “Pocket” for the first time, he stole her heart.

Kate and Sammy worked together in Denver Public Schools with K-12 students in both group and individual counseling sessions. Sammy’s affection, which is sometimes over the top, is one of the qualities those working with Sammy love the most. The Pawsitive Connection program through FSD was created to help high-risk youth develop and improve empathy, pro-social skills, and problem behaviors. Kate and Sammy worked with clients considered to be at-risk for various factors, such as struggling with mental health issues, cognitive disabilities, involvement in the juvenile justice system, gang violence, substance abuse, poor school performance, bullying, isolation/withdrawn behavior, and/or disruptive home life. When Kate witnessed Sammy’s ability to bring joy, hope, and positive change to those he worked with it made her even more of a believer in the positive effects of Animal-Assisted Therapy.

If you are interested in receiving therapy for sexual assault or sexual abuse, please contact YWCA Stepping Stones at (309) 662-0461, ext. 275. Options for animal-assisted therapy will be presented if your counselor finds it appropriate.