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Comments on the dilemma in the April issue: Enrolling in animal-assisted therapy programmes

Abstract

In the dilemma discussed in the April issue of In Practice, Simon Coghlan described a scenario where a long-standing client wishes to enrol her dog in an animal-assisted therapy (AAT) programme for children with autism spectrum disorder. The AAT psychologist has requested a veterinary assessment before the dog (Imogen) takes part in the programme. Imogen is a very calm, well-trained 18-month-old Labrador. She has recently been diagnosed with unilateral elbow dysplasia. Her owner reports that Imogen dislikes having her nails trimmed. Given this, you wonder if you have an ethical responsibility to recommend against the dog entering AAT. However, your client is very upbeat, ‘Imogen loves children and will be a wonderful help to them,’ she enthuses. (IP, April 2019, vol 41, pp 134-135). What do you do?

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In the poll on Veterinary Record's Twitter page, the majority of respondents (87 per cent) would write a report that included notes on Imogen’s elbow dysplasia and her dislike of nail clipping, and leave the decision to the animal-assisted therapy (AAT) programme.

A small minority (4 per cent) would advise that Imogen is suitable to work on the AAT programme. A slightly larger minority (9 per cent) would advise that Imogen is not suitable to work with autistic children on the programme.

Presumably, the 4 per cent responding that Imogen can work on the programme would argue that Imogen’s elbow dysplasia can, if necessary, be controlled with analgesia. They would claim that the AAT programme won’t involve Imogen’s nails being clipped. Thus, they would argue, both of these issues effectively become irrelevant.

In contrast, the 9 per cent who responded that Imogen is not suitable for the programme would claim that either her elbow dysplasia, or her dislike of nail clipping, are sufficient to rule her out of such AAT work. For instance, her elbow dysplasia might progress to a more painful condition, or her behaviour during nail clipping might be an indicator of a deeper problem.

It seems difficult to adjudicate with certainty between these two small minority positions. It may be, in part, for this reason that the majority see their professional veterinary duty being fulfilled by reporting these findings, and leaving it up the AAT programme to make the final decision about Imogen’s suitability for the AAT programme.

Steven McCulloch

Everyday Ethics Poll

Last month’s poll asked:

A client wishes to enrol her dog, Imogen, in an animal assisted therapy (AAT) programme for children with autism which requires a veterinary assessment. Imogen has elbow dysplasia and doesn't like having her nails cut. What do you advise?

4% of respondents would advise that Imogen is suitable for the AAT programme.

9% of respondents would advise that Imogen is not suitable for the AAT programme.

87% of respondents would advise the client to provide this information on enrolment and leave the decision to the AAT programme.

(57 respondents)

Vote for this month’s online poll at:

https://twitter.com/Vet_Record

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