AAII conference report, Verona

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AAII conference, 25-16 October 2019: Professionalizing the Practice of AAIs, Verona, Italy

Report by J.Fowler Director of IAHAIO

I had the pleasure of attending the annual international conference of AAII (full name) in the beautiful city of Verona, Italy, 14-15 October.  IAHAIO has recently exchanged reciprocal membership with AAII and I was very keen to hear about how members of this wonderful organization are working towards professionalisation of the field of AAI – which was the main theme of the conference.  The conference drew together AAII members from around the globe and, set in the beautiful grounds of Villa Arvedi, together with the wonderful fine Italian food and the charm of our hosts the Arvedi family, the event didn’t disappoint.

The opening presentation provided much food for thought, with Greta Kerulo from the University of Lincoln/ outlining a compelling case for the importance of providing standardised training for those delivering AAI to better understand the body language and emotions of dogs. Keynote speaker Dr James Serpell presented an excellent case for those working in the field to adopt a One Welfare approach to improve welfare and well-being for all participants, human and animal.

It was inspiring to learn about the commitment and ambition of many organizations, across different countries and cultures, to work to high quality standards for the well-being of the animals and humans in their care. IAHAIO member organization, Four Paws, described the very comprehensive approach they have adopted in developing quality standards for  their AAI programmes with former stray dogs across Bulgaria, Romania and Ukraine, a very ambitious task. I was struck by the importance they place on communicating the purpose of the programme, both internally and externally,and the very careful thought that has been given to all aspects of AAI delivery. Their quality standard is a 60 a page document which will be published soon, and I think will provide much inspiration to other organizations. (Link to their presentation)

Another highlight for me was the innovative community dog program run by UK-based charity Dogs for Good and a local authority.  To my knowledge this is one of the first programmes where the local authority pays for the AAT service (delivered by Dogs for Good who provide the trained dog and the animal handler) for a recipient in the community. Their top tip is to make a business case and to directly link the funding needed to the recipient, showing that the service benefits the recipient but that it also costs the local authority less money than other services. It may feel uncomfortable for those in the field to think in business terms, but for sustainability and longevity of AAI programmes and indeed, professionalisation of the field, this is becoming an essential component.

Although AAII is essentially a practitioner oriented organization, the importance of the role of research in practice was highlighted in an interesting presentation by Taylor Chastain of Pet Partners who shared the results of a literature review of animal therapy papers that revealed a distinct lack of standardised terminology and information relating to therapy animals and standards of practice referred to in these papers. The implications of this on the quality of research and the ability to compare findings is clear and underlined the importance of researchers and practitioners having clearer, precise communications and closer workings.

A very informative presentation by Natasa Ogrin Jurevic, an occupational therapist from Slovenia, took attendees through the essential components of delivering a structured therapy programme with dogs. Accompanied by excellent video footage of her work, it reminded participants of the importance of preparation, attention to detail, encouragement for all participants and a critical eye to ensure effective delivery. A great example of professionalism in the field.

At various points during the conference, the board of AAII shared the significant progress that has been made towards the setting of standards and competencies and the mapping of an accreditation process for both individuals and organizations undertaking AAA, AAE or AAT. The launch of the accreditation process is imminent  and is the impressive result of the work of the members of AAII and the AAII board over a period of six years. This is an important development on the road to professionalisation and these efforts should be commended.

Information about the work of Animal Assisted Intervention International and their future events and conferences can be found here (www.aai-int.org)

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