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Pet Facilitated Therapy in Correctional Institutions


B. Objectives

Each institution must clearly identify the goals of their program. For example, in an institution that has a large population of inmates eligible for parole, the program could aim to teach skills for future employment. If the inmates are not likely to be quickly released back to the community, the focus could be on easing loneliness, and providing companionship. A group/committee/steering committee should be formed to plan this program. This group should include, among others, the following:

  • administrators from the prison
  • program co-ordinator
  • staff members who have close contact with inmates
  • trainers (independent of the prison)
  • veterinarians (independent of the prison)
  • members of the humane society (independent of the prison)
  • one or two inmates

It is essential to get full cooperation and support from the administration, staff and inmates.

The full participation and co-operation of the entire staff (nurses, aides, and housekeeping and custodial personnel) will be necessary if any animal placement is to succeed. Without staff involvement, the chances of unsuccessful placement are high. The staff of an institution must possess the knowledge to plan a placement well, the energy and enthusiasm to make the placement work, and the commitment to care for an animal properly. (Lee, Zeglen, Ryan, Hines, 1983).

A proposal should be presented to the above mentioned groups which identifies the beneficial effects it will have on the environment. Such consultation will allow for information sharing and full discussion. Finding out if staff or inmates have any allergies or phobias (a topic to be discussed later in the section) to animals prior to the program’s commencement will save a lot of time and energy in restructuring and accommodations. Many institutions have outlined the beginning steps or planning strategies they have used. The following is from the Oakwood Forensic Center and it may be adapted for use by correctional institutions. A Planning Strategy For Beginning a PFT Program is outlined in Appendix III.

  1. Write up a beginning proposal for the introduction of pets, in detail.
  • Together with representatives from the humane society, a veterinarian and interested others, formally present the ideas to the administration and seek a commitment from them for a certain time period for trying pets.
  • Start small on one receptive ward or area. One successful approach is to introduce a small pet in an office where escorted patients can go at first to visit. Then, work up to a structured program where the patients can help share responsibility for the pet. The patients must demonstrate responsibility first, like helping daily with the farm-type pets or helping care for ward pets and aquariums. Only then should arrangements be made for a personal pet.
  • Constant documentation on progress (or lack of progress) for both the patient and the pet must be conducted.
  • Establish a firm policy of taking no risks with the pets. The animal’s safety and humane care precedes any therapeutic goals.
  • Incorporate close monitoring and structure into the program.
  • A PFT program must provide a consistent, well-integrated service delivery system. This begins with a uniform referral system that includes questions as to pet preference and past pets and psychological testing to reflect what goals are to be sought. (Lee, 1984).

    Guidelines For Successful Pet Visitation Programs

    1. Animal Selection

    (a) Appearance

    (b) Elimination

    (c) Socialization and training

    (d) Temperament

    (e) Types of animals

    2. Programs

    3. Opening Institution Doors

    4. Institution Conduct