Tuesday, August 29, 2006
SON staff member starts research on pet therapy
By Rebecca Wyatt, OU Web Writer
|Kingsley Montgomery School student Jacob Scott works with Jenny as part of Amy Johnson's Teacher's Pet program.|
Amy Johnson’s life has gone to the dogs. Project coordinator for the School of Nursing, Johnson has found a link between her love for animals and her day job. She pairs up emotionally impaired youth with unwanted dogs and watches them both blossom. Dean of the School of Nursing Linda Thompson Adams has been supportive of Johnson’s work and now the school is looking for ways to incorporate it into research efforts.
Two years ago, Johnson began training dogs when she worked for the Michigan Humane Society. She had heard of programs where unwanted dogs go into prisons for training to help make them more adoptable and she wanted to help start a program like that in this area. Along with a coworker, Johnson approached her boss, who turned down the idea.
However, for two years, Johnson spent her own time researching the idea and finally decided to connect with a local school for students with social impairments and help the dogs while helping the students. So she established Teacher’s Pet: Dogs and Kids Learning Together.
“Initially, I wanted to go into the prisons with the dogs, but then I decided to work with the kids before they got to the prisons and maybe help them avoid ending up there,” Johnson said.
For two hours twice a week the students from Kingsley Montgomery School in Waterford work with the dogs on basic obedience. The students spend the first hour in the classroom learning about animal abuse, proper care and grooming, then they work directly with the dogs.
“The students make the connections on their own so they don’t feel like they are learning,” Johnson said.
The dogs are trained with a positive-reinforcement techniques. The students often learn their lives are parallel to that of the dogs. If the dogs do well, the dogs are rewarded. The students learn if they show good behavior, they too are rewarded and given more freedom.
The dogs, which are generally more than a year old and have some behavioral problems, come from Canine Companions Rescue Center in Clarkston.
“They are literally rescued from death row,” Johnson said.
The class has five dogs at a time, and lasted six weeks through the pilot semester, which began in January. The students are not only charged with helping to train the dog, but they also write letters to prospective families telling them about the dogs. This year, the program will last ten weeks and Johnson hopes it continues to grow.
“During the program the kids are well-behaved. Their attendance improves, their work improves but when it’s over they tend to slide back,” Johnson said.
In the future, Johnson hopes to add a kennel where the students can work and conduct a second phase of the program. She has many plans for the program and now she’s getting help from the School of Nursing.
When the program took off, Johnson approached Adams about working part time, but Adams, who has a background in child development and dealing with those who have emotional impairments, told Johnson to make it part of her job.
“So many people are interested in animal therapy, including hospitals, schools, nursing homes and prisons, but they have a hard time selling it to supervisors because there is very little research on the benefits,” Johnson said.
So she’s teaming up with nursing faculty to do the research. They are writing grant proposals to find funding for Teacher’s Pet and are doing studies from the students who participate in the program. Johnson said nurses are responsible for the health and wellness of children so it makes sense that the school would be involved in the research on the effects of one form of therapy.
“I couldn’t be any happier with the direction Teacher’s Pet is going in. There was a reason this didn’t happen before. Oakland University has been so supportive and it was meant to happen here,” Johnson said.
For more information on Oakland University’s nursing programs, visit the School of Nursing Web site.