Incorporating Therapy Dogs into CTAC Assessments: A Pilot Study

CTAC staff meeting Sunny at a staff meeting.

Sociology professor, Dr. Angie Moe, has begun to bring her therapy dogs (Sunny and Oreo) to the Southwest Michigan Children’s Trauma Assessment Center. This pilot study incorporates registered therapy dog(s) into the assessments conducted on children at CTAC over a six-month period. While existing research indicates that therapy dogs are helpful in myriad ways for children and adolescents who face mental, emotional, behavioral, social/relational, and educational challenges, their efficacy has not been studied within a clinical trauma assessment setting. Relying on a qualitative field methodology, the use of therapy dogs within CTAC assessments will be evaluated based on ongoing observations of child-dog interactions and field interviews with CTAC staff. The results will inform continued efforts at incorporating therapy dogs more widely into the newly formed Resiliency Center for Families and Children and provide a basis for additional funding and more structured evaluation. 

Sunny and Oreo will be on hand for the kids, families, and staff this summer and fall as they proceed through the difficult and critical tasks of comprehensive trauma assessments and treatment plans. Dr. Moe has also built in some staff wellness drop-ins to aid in staff wellness. The goal of pet therapy is to engage with adults and children, and to help stimulate conversation and interaction while providing comfort. The dogs blend with whatever is happening, complimenting rather than interfering.

Sunny and Oreo are registered therapy animals through Alliance of Therapy Dogs. Along with handler, Dr. Angie Moe, they visit people in settings throughout the Midwest.