Miller Place High School Psychology Students Explore the Benefits of Dog-Assisted Therapy

Miller Place High School gave its psychology students a dog day afternoon – literally – with a lesson on the benefits of dog-assisted therapy.

Classes met with volunteers from the Long Island chapter of Love on a Leash, a nonprofit that provides dog-assisted therapy to facilities like nursing homes and hospitals. Volunteers shared how animal-assisted therapy is used to enhance the recovery of patients with varying physical and mental illnesses. At the end of the presentation, students had a chance to meet the dogs and their handlers.

“This program gave our students a chance to learn about a valuable therapy practice from those who practice it. The students thoroughly enjoyed the experience,” said psychology teacher Tara Penske. 

While animal-assisted therapy has been growing in popularity in recent history, the practice has been studied for over a century. Florence Nightingale, considered the founder of modern nursing, recognized its potential in the late 1800s when she paired children and adults in psychiatric institutions with small pets. In her renowned 1859 book, Notes on Nursing, she recorded how having an animal companion helped her patients recover.

Dr. Sigmund Freud revived a public interest in animal therapy, specifically with dogs, in the 1930s when he brought his own pet Jo-Fi to therapy sessions and noted the calming affect it had on his patients. 

In 1961, Dr. Boris Levinson became known as the “father of animal-assisted therapy” when he accidentally left his dog Jingles alone with a young patient who was withdrawn and nonverbal. On returning, Dr. Levinson found the boy communicating with Jingles. He began using Jingles in his child psychotherapy sessions and wrote a book in 1969 called Pet-Oriented Child Psychotherapy.

Dogs are most often used in animal-assisted therapy because of their nonjudgmental nature and desire to protect others, which helps patients break down their emotional barriers.

“This was such a great opportunity for our psychology students to learn about a unique therapy technique that is becoming increasingly prevalent. It’s always great to bring experiential learning to the classroom and I’m grateful for our psychology teachers for hosting such a great program,” said Kevin Slavin,  Principal of Miller Place High School.

Love on a Leash is a nonprofit that offers a certification process for volunteers to become qualified to provide effective dog-assisted therapy services in their community. Therapy pets and their handlers visit wherever they are invited and have held sessions at nursing homes, hospitals, schools, behavioral centers, private homes and other facilities – all free of charge.

The nonprofit launched in San Diego in the 1980s and has since expanded to almost every state in the U.S. As of April 2022, there are over 2,400 members volunteering as therapy teams with dogs, cats and rabbits.

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Miller Place High School gave its psychology students a presentation on the benefits of dog-assisted therapy