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Women Offender Programs and Issues

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Pet Facilitated Therapy in Correctional Institutions

STAFF

The staff in various institutions commented that having animals around is a definite benefit to their working environment. A frequent response is the reduction in staff stress levels because of the presence of an animal. This has been noted in different ways in a variety of settings. (Carmack, 1989). For example:

The most common response was that the dog enabled them to feel more relaxed when they petted him or looked over and saw him sleeping. During stressful days when the activity level on the unit was particularly high, the dog would get into his bed and either curl up and go to sleep or look out at the activity, staying out of the way with a peaceful and non-stressed look, conveying a sense that things were under control. Looking over at him sitting there or sleeping, appearing totally unaware of the stress level, enabled staff to perceive an immediate reduction in their stress levels. At a later time when they could go over and actually sit and pet the dog, one could observe their gentle stroking and petting the dog while saying quietly to him things like, "Good dog, you’re a really good dog, you know. You just stay so calm and so you don’t get upset, good dog." (Carmack, 1989)

Various interdisciplinary staff stroke the dog during staff meetings. He would walk up next to a staff member’s chair and sit beside that person. The natural response was to reach down and begin stroking the dog’s ears, or behind his ears. Both the dog and staff member appeared relaxed, enjoying the touching interaction. An additional benefit resulted when staff would take him outside for a walk. By having a few minutes outside with the active, enthusiastic, and energetic dog, staff described feeling a renewed sense of energy, a renewed willingness to come back and work again, and a resulting decreased stress level. (Carmack, 1989)

The presence of AAT can be one means to increase staff morale by decreasing stress levels, increasing a sense of play and their sense of working as a team, and giving them a renewed sense of interest in their work and in their clients. (Carmack, 1989) Having PFT in closed institutions helps to increase staff morale and the overall environment. A review of the literature indicates it promotes an increase in work levels by decreasing stress. Although not all of the above examples pertain to correctional institutions, the effect is universal.