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Recommendations for Uniform Terminology in Animal-Assisted Services

Binder, A. J., Parish-Plass, N., Kirby, M., Winkle, M., Skwerer, D. P., Ackerman, L., … & Wijnen, B. (2024). Recommendations for uniform terminology in animal-assisted services (AAS). Human-Animal Interactions12(1).

Abstract

“Through the years, the range of services involving animals benefiting people, often described as “animal-assisted interventions” (AAIs), has been plagued with confusing and inconsistent taxonomy, terminology, and definitions. This has caused difficulties for the delineation of roles of service providers, for the recipients of services, as well as for the preparation, training, and expectations of the animals that work in different roles. It can be argued that these difficulties have compromised the development of the field in terms of establishing agreed standards of practice, qualifications, and competencies and adopting good animal welfare practices. It has also likely limited the base of evidence, as search terms used to access studies are not consistent, and study protocols are difficult to compare, lacking uniformity in terminology. Additionally, the current terminology cannot accommodate the expansion and diversification of programs in recent years, which is likely to continue as the field evolves. Establishing internationally agreed upon uniform taxonomy, terminology, and definitions is crucial to more accurately reflect the key features of different approaches, to define the scope and competencies for different service providers and their animals, to provide transparency about services for recipients, and to ensure the appropriate preparation, training, and support of the animals that work with them.
The recommendations in this article are the result of an international work group that convened over the course of two years. The umbrella term animal-assisted services (AAS) is proposed, defined as services that are facilitated, guided or mediated by a health or human service provider or educator, who works with and maintains the welfare of a specially alongside a specially qualifying animal to provide therapeutic, educational, supportive and/or ameliorative processes aimed at enhancing the well-being of humans. AAS are further categorized into three main areas: treatment, education, and support programs. A recommendation for provider-specific terminology is also suggested. The aim of these proposals is to set clear expectations and boundaries for each specialty of practice, without compromising the richness and diversity of each approach. The adoption of this new umbrella term and its categories is intended to improve clarity for all involved in the receipt and delivery of services, as well as for those who study their effects” (Binder et al., 2024).