Nurse-Led Canine-Assisted Intervention Practice
Cindy Brosig has an MS in nursing with an emphasis in Animal-Assisted Therapy. She created Operation H.E.E.L., the first nurse-led Animal-Assisted Intervention practice fostering the health benefits of the humananimal bond. Cindy also instructs a Therapy Dog Prep Class and is an evaluator for canine skills testing.
Canine-Assisted Interventions (CAI) in the health care setting was created and formally implemented in 1976 by Elaine Smith, a registered nurse and the Founder of Therapy Dogs International, the first Therapy Dog organization established in the United States. As a nurse working in the community health care setting, it was a natural progression for me to establish the first nurse-led Animal-Assisted Intervention (AAI) practice for children and adults based on current research supporting the healing qualities of the human animal bond. Witnessing the lives changed by working with a dog moved me to provide an essential health service for the community that is dedicated to the prevention, maintenance, and recovery of human dis-ease through the presence of dogs.
My interest in the field began with my faithful canine companion, Aggie, a mixed-breed dog rescued at approximately 2 years of age, reportedly running alone on a rural, dusty7 farm road in Indiana. Not only had I noticed Aggie’s patience with young children as she gently maneuvered herself around them so they could touch her soft coat, but she also caught the eye of special education teachers who invited her to visit with disabled children while waiting for the arrival of their school buses. Every day we witnessed the pure joy Aggie brought to these otherwise quiet, seemingly unresponsive students through their squeals of excitement and uncontrolled, yet thoughtful movements of their arms and legs. It was then that I knew that dogs offered something special to humans facing physical, mental, and circumstantial challenges, and I decided to devote my graduate studies in nursing to prove this.
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Through my research of utilizing AAI in patient care I found that it is not enough to have a thorough understanding of human dis-ease and human interaction with another species. Researching, practicing, and applying knowledge of canine behavior and health is another important component to consider that not only helps to nurture the beneficial, healing relationship between humans and dogs but also protects the health and wellness of the canine companion. For this reason, I continue to collaborate with my sister, USAF Major Nancy Lester, a veterinarian with a masters degree in public health, take dog-training classes, complete canine skills testing, and work privately with dog trainers. I attribute my knowledge of canine welfare and behavior through raising and training my second adopted dog, Ted, a 6-year-old mixed breed rescue who completed his Canine Good Citizen Test and registration as a nationally recognized Therapy Dog at only 11/2 years old, quite remarkable for a dog his age.
After several years of volunteering as a registered Therapy Dog team for U.S. military members, U.S. veterans, and their family members Ted and I honed our skills in meeting the physiological, social, and emotional needs of humans. Concurrently, I dedicated my graduate studies in nursing on evidenced-based practices that focused on AAI for different patient populations. Certificate programs and continuing education credits in AAI are available through online platforms, but they usually only cover usage of basic terminology' with minimal understanding of canine behavior, not actual therapeutic approaches.
Challenges in my work include using the term “pet therapy” for both informal, therapeutic visits and measurable, goal-based therapy sessions. This causes confusion in differentiating types of services sought by individuals. Additionally, clients are more familiar with nurses providing traditional medical care in an institution, not for their ability to use innovative, therapeutic interventions in private practice.
The gift of being present during the subtle moments of transformation and understanding between a child and a dog is revered. Knowing these interactions w'ill positively affect the quality of life for that individual continues to inspire my work advocating for AAI as an evidenced-based tool to be used to achieve health and wellness. Working with dogs decreases the use of medications (and in many cases individuals cease to use medications), enhances relationships with family and friends, and reminds us of what it means to have compassion for others and for oneself.
For AAI to be successful, the working dog must have the freedom to interact naturally, in play and at rest. It is also crucial to take time in developing the human-animal bond, adjusting for potential personality conflicts (e.g., a dog that is too happy can be over-stimulating for a child experiencing symptoms of depression), and taking time for closure at the end of the therapeutic relationship. I foster an individual’s independence working with a dog, not dependence working with a dog.
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I began this career path thinking I needed to train a dog to be therapeutic. While basic obedience skills are necessary to safely maneuver in public, dogs are sentient beings; many sense when they are needed for support. I strongly encourage anyone entering this field to start by volunteering to care for rescue dogs to interpret stress, calming, and positive canine behaviors. In turn, you will be enriching a dogs life and learning a bit about yourself, too.
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Welfare in a Context of