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Pet Facilitated Therapy in Correctional Institutions


N. Program Evaluation

Evaluating the effects of pet therapy programs is a challenge facing researchers in the discipline for several reasons (Cusack and Smith, 1984). Many institutions do not document the effectiveness of their PFT program because its success is visibly noticeable to all involved and anecdotal information often takes the place of empirical data. As well, many staff members do not have the background to conduct such evaluations. Finally, evaluations can be expensive to conduct.

…standard measures of affection for pets have not been developed. Several research studies have concluded that measuring degree of attachments to pets may be difficult... It is preferable to use several measures, some self report and some more objective indicators that might be observed or rated by your staff, or (ideally) impartial outsiders. (Lago, Knight, Rohrer-Dann and Friend, 1985).

The Pact Manual (Lago, Knight, Rohrer-Dann, Friend, 1985) lists why evaluations should be completed:

1. Evaluation, carefully done, helps keep us from fooling ourselves by giving us other information to consider.

2. Evaluation results provide performance evidence that helps to convince future clients, other community members, health professionals, and funding agencies that programs are worth supporting.

3. Evaluation is necessary in planning what should be done next.

Cusack and Smith (1984) outline guidelines that institutions can use to assess the effects of their programs:

  1. Individuals versus Populations
  • to evaluate the change in the population/individual that is a direct result of the introduction of this variable. Generally, the pre-treatment or non-treatment condition is designated the control and the post-treatment or treatment is designated the experimental. The effect of the variable thus is the difference between the control and the experimental.
  1. How to Measure Effect
  • Standardized Tests
  • advantage: validity, they are deemed a true indicator of the condition measured, and they have been tested on a number of populations.
  • disadvantage: an institution may not have the time, knowledge, or personnel on staff to administer such tests, especially to a large population of patients.
    • Videotape
  • it allows the researcher to review the session in depth, as many times as required to scrutinize the behaviours and comments that took place. Often, slight changes in facial expressions, hand movements, and body language can be overlooked during the actual interaction. It is also an excellent training procedure to show novice pet therapists exactly what to look for.
    • Precise Variables – Verbalization
  • Amount of time spent alone and a decreased workload on staff
  • Appearance of a new behaviour or vocalization that was previously unrealized
  • Number of patients near the dog

    • Patients who interact with each other when interacting with the dog
  • Response to activity that involves dog (versus response to activity that doesn’t involve dog)
  • Carry-over to other projects
  • Does patient initiate interaction or play (or does pet)
    • Subjective Evaluation
  • most health care professionals have their own internal criteria for determining improvement of a given patient
  • Lago, Knight, Rohrer-Dann and Friend (1985) continue to explain the distinctions (monitoring and outcome) in the process of evaluation and other characteristics to consider:

    Monitoring represents the regular tabulation and examination of reports documenting the service activities in a program. For example, the number of animals placed, or the number of people attending an education program. Monitoring information should be routed to the appropriate committee chairman and to board meetings as regularly scheduled reports... The monitoring report should be used to summarize how the program has been doing over a given calendar period. (Lago, Knight, Rohrer-Dann and Friend, 1985).

    Outcome evaluation refers to a process of comparing documented service performance to the organization’s goals... It should focus on changes in the experiences and the quality of life of clients and owners. Thus, the emphasis is not on what we do, but rather on does what we have done show desired or negative effects on the lives of older persons. (Lago, Knight, Rohrer-Dann and Friend, 1985).

    Monitoring information accumulates to be one of the sources of information used in outcome evaluation. (Lago, Knight, Rohrer-Dann and Friend, 1985).

    The most useful way of including clients into your evaluation process is to document complaints, concerns, or compliments whenever they arise. If the evaluation committee receives a "critical incident" report for every major client communication this information can be tabulated and added to an evaluation report that suggest issues your group might need to work on. (Lago, Knight, Rohrer-Dann and Friend, 1985).

    Case studies growing out of the critical incident approach are also very useful, especially when you are dealing with a relatively uncommon event. (Lago, Knight, Rohrer-Dann and Friend, 1985).

    Pet therapy has enormous potential; in terms of benefits, costs, and feasibility of implementation, it could conceivably outdistance most other treatment modalities (Cusack and Smith, 1984), and formal evaluations will assist in the program’s general assistance and stature.