Printable flyer: About Canine Assisted Intervention

A vision for canine integration into specialized care

Any dog lover can tell you that canines possess qualities that help people feel better. The mere presence of the animal – its spontaneous behaviors, and opportunities for interaction – are good for the mind, body, and spirit. That is why dogs are making their way into hospitals and treatment rooms.

While interest is growing in the use of animals to benefit people suffering from mental health challenges, there is increasing need for differentiating informal activities (such as having a dog present during treatment sessions) from goal directed intervention.

About a decade ago, the American Counseling Association (ACA) began to recognize the use of animal interventions as a specialty area within the counseling field. Yet, there was a lack of structure and accountability. That is why, in 2016, key definitions and competencies were developed by the organization’s newly formed American Counseling Association Animal-Assisted Therapy in Mental Health Interest Network.

Taking Canine Assisted Interventions to the next level

Structured programs related to canine assists in mental health are scattered and few and far between. Why? Here are two reasons: 1) formalized programs are just starting to take hold, and 2) no institution has had access to large-scale patient data bases. Until now.

As one of the largest providers of specialized behavioral health programming, Rogers Behavioral Health is home to an incredibly large collection of mental health data assessments. A structured, accountable CAI program is a strong and natural fit for Rogers, an internationally known leader focused on providing evidence-based, specialized mental health and addiction services.

Benefits to patient care

At Rogers Behavioral Health, we know that each child, teen, and adult who receives our care is unique, and not every person makes connections in treatment or personal discoveries in the same way. Experiential therapies, such as art, horticultural, music, recreational, and pet can provide additional pathways to understanding one’s challenges and coping mechanisms.

That said, certified therapy dogs give something special to enhance the health and well-being of others. It has been shown that petting, touching, and talking with animals can lower one’s blood pressure and ease stress. Systematic reviews of small studies yield additional promising information.

  • Incorporating dog-related activities can facilitate communication between the therapist and the patient, which increases positive interactions.
  • Dogs are in a unique situation to display emotions and behaviors that may not be deemed professionally appropriate for a therapist, such as taking on a comforting role.
  • There is evidence to suggest that CAI may help to improve therapeutic processes and quality factors, such as attendance and retention, positive socialization, and feelings of connections in self-selected adolescent populations.

Visits from therapy dogs offer an additional tool for clinical staff to use during treatment. As witnessed with Cross, exposure to trained dogs can help some patients through the tough work of treatment for mental health challenges.

Key Components to establishing CAI at Rogers

Being a non-profit behavioral health care system, to make this program move forward, Rogers will need funding to launch and maintain the CAI program. Components include:

  1. Hire a dedicated professional specializing in CAI to organize canine teams
  2. Educate therapists and staff at Rogers about using canine assisted interventions with specific patients during individual sessions (as well as in a group).
  3. Evaluate and modify clinical software to account for data collection and outcomes reporting.
  4. Collect ongoing data from CAI program to quantify and define the benefit.
  5. Expand CAI to additional Rogers’ locations across the country and communicate benefits to the wider behavioral health care community.

As Cross’ handlers for the past 5 years at Rogers, we saw first-hand the benefits Cross brought to people in need as well as to the staff trying to help those patients.

Cross’ work was truly ground breaking, and working to quantify these benefits through CAI is the best way to pay tribute to all of Cross’ hard work while establishing another tool to assist in the treatment of mental health and addiction challenges.

– Steve and Rhonda Murphy

Fundraising Initiative

The “Paws Against Pain” fundraising intiative was created by Steve and Rhonda Murphy with a goal of $250,000 to help launch the CAI program at Rogers.

As of November 5, 2021, “Paws Against Pain” has exceeded it’s goal of $250,00! THANK YOU to all of our supporters. 

Cross’ Story

Eleven years ago, Steve and Rhonda Murphy became the proud handlers of a German Shepherd puppy named Cross. During his youth, they trained Cross in everything from obedience, search, agility, and protection, but it was in the therapy setting where Cross’ talents stood out.

As a part of what was then known as pet therapy, the program coordinator at Rogers Behavioral Health reached out to Steve and Rhonda to see if they would be willing to bring Cross to the Oconomowoc, WI, campus for one hour per week to work with a group of children. Soon, stories about how these young patients benefited from Cross’ interactions began to emerge. Some therapists noticed that the children wrere able to calm down and focus more on treatment. Others saw their patients participate more and develop self-confidence as they commanded the dog to complete tasks.

Seeing the benefits, Cross was asked to attend teen and adult group sessions as well as individual sessions when the therapist felt his abilities could be a benefit for a specific patient. Toward the end of his five years of service, Cross could be seen on campus doing what he loved most for at least one- to-two hours a day, five-to-six days a week.

When Cross passed away in December of 2020, it raised the question of how to continue the work Cross started. Rogers’ leadership, along with Steve and Rhonda, determined the path forward would be to expand the program into a more formalized and clinically integrated Canine Assisted Intervention (CAI) program.

Watch Cross at work

Watch as Cross and his handlers, Steve and Rhonda, demonstrate the benefit of therapy dogs in the behavioral health care setting.Video completed in May of 2019.