My Therapy Dogs Saved my Life

Therapy Dog Luna checking out Kate’s Race Shirt.

If you own a dog you are eight times more like to survive the first critical year after a heart attack, then your dog-less friends…eight times!  Snuggling with dogs lowers the stress hormone cortisol.  Playing with dogs reduces anxiety, normalizes blood pressure and helps you feel more connected, less alone.  I know a man who’s Doctor actually wrote on s prescription pad “Get a dog”.

God bless my pups for forcing me to get up, get out and walk after my heart surgery.  I am so grateful to my dogs and all of your therapy animals for the lives they have saved.  And when they are not saving us they are making our lives richer.  Clients are motivated and inspired in a context of joy, while their bodies release Oxycontin, that readies the cells for healing.  What an incredible prescription!

– Kate Thomas

Evolution of a new AAT exercise.

There was a young boy, we will call him “Charlie”, who received hippotherapy with a Speech Therapist and canine assisted therapy with an OT.

Charlie and his family struggled with Charlie’s emotional lability issues.  When his Mum came to pick him up at the horse farm, Charlie could hardly contain himself.  He loved his Mum very much and had gotten in the bad habit of giving her a tight hug around the neck with his arm…sort of like a choke hold.

This was relatively benign while Charlie was small but as he became tall and strong, it was a little frightening for his Mother.  Sky and I had been working with Charlie for two sessions when I had to bring my non-therapy, therapy dog, Campbell.

I usually left her home.  She had emotional lability issues.  She would get overly excited barking and bouncing uncontrollably when she met people, she was now, almost exclusively, my house dog/beloved pet.  She had one paw out the door in our program for Animal Assisted Therapy OT & PT Pups in Ann Arbor.

Charlie came over to her crate and she went into her usual boing-boing, yip-yip routine.  He took a look at her shushed her and kind of wiped his hands downward.  Like he was smoothing out something in front of him.  He repeated it “Shhhhhh”, slowly and gently raising his hands in front of him and lowering them.  The way the conductor signals the symphony to sit back down… “Shhhh”. Campbell stopped bouncing, went silent and sat down.

Holly Dog Whisperer!  The Speech Therapist and OT and Mum all witnessed it. This became the signal they gave Charlie when they needed him to take self calming measures.  It is, to this day, Campbell’s signal, to take self calming measures.  I am happy to say she is back in service at OT & PT Pups.

First the client asks her to bounce and bark, then asks her to become calm.  Thanks to Charlie the Emotional Lability exercise is now an important part of our AAT (Animal Assisted Therapy) repitoire that we offer Therapists and their clients.

Well done Charlie!

Research and College Text Book

Our focus in the months ahead will be on creating the worlds first collegiate text on Animal Assisted therapy.  It’s terribly challenging and wonderfully exciting all at once.  We plan to offer not only a how-to pull out section with specific therapeutic exercises but the latest

visual motor integration, manual dexterity, problem solving, care-giving

research, projections on the future of Animal Assisted Therapy and several contributions from the most innovative, top therapists in the field.  We will be talking with and soliciting fascinating contributions from the Shepherd Center – Spinal Cord & Brain Injury Rehabilitation, in Atlanta Georgia, University of Michigan Hospital in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, Cleveland Clinic, in Cleveland, Ohio, and more.  We will describe their programs and implementation of Animal Assisted Therapy in detail, so you can pick and choose which aspects you will use when designing your program – what works with your specific set of skills, resources and objectives.

gait, functional mobility, balance, strength, environmental awareness, proprioception, weight bearing

This text will be a rich combination of 1) how to design and implement an Animal Assisted Program, 2) how to perform the actual therapeutic exercises and 3) research and projections, so you may increase your knowledge base and discover your place/contribution to the future of Animal Assisted innovation and research.


What’s New?

On Saturday September 27th, 2014, we will be presenting a fun and informative short course at the annual Lyla M. Spelbring Endowed Lecture and Conference Workshops at Eastern Michigan University in the Marshall Building.  We are first up Saturday from 9 AM to 11 AM.  We will lecture and demonstrate Animal Assisted Therapy Within the Context of Occupational Therapy.  Audience participation with the therapy pups is highly encouraged. This is a hands on course.  First 45 participants accepted.

Mac following directions of his client, to “Hup Pup” over the fence.

Periodically we offer a Wonderful class in Animal Assisted Therapy for .6 Continuing Education Units.  Our last one was Sunday May 4th from 9 am to 4 pm.  Held at Northfield Dog Training in Ann Arbor, MI.  This was a collaboration with University of Michigan Hospital and CEU’s applied to everyone in a medical profession, OT’s, PT, RT’s, Nurses, Doctors, Hospital Administrators, Psychologists, etc.

It was fast paced, fun, and up to date on the most current literature and research. Half the day was spent in hands on practical experiences directly with Therapy Dog/Handler Teams.  What’s more fun than playing with pups all day!  Bagels and beverages were provided for breakfast and organic fruit and bottled spring water all day.

The class sold out and then some, but we didn’t turn anyone away.

If you have questions, comments or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact us at with your request(s).

Please check back for the next time the class is offered.


April 5th, 2014 Baltimore Maryland at the Worlds Largest Occupational Therapy conference –  AOTA –  400 People came to learn about Animal Assisted Therapy.  We were expecting 250 max.

We were blown away.  Thank you so much to each and everyone of you who came and the sainted volunteer OT’s and Handlers. We know the situation was not ideal, but we hope you found some small part, informative or inspirational.  Welcome to the AAT Family.

Mona Sams MOT and her Therapy Llama







November 2012

We had a wonderful time at the American Occupational Therapy Association Student Conclave in Columbus Ohio on November 9th and 10th, 2012.  We offered advanced specific lecture/demos at our Exhibit Booth.  Subjects covered; Hippotherapy, Utilizing Therapy Dog/Handler Teams in a Hospital, How to Start an AAOT Program at your facility, and live dog demos.

We were thrilled that hundreds and hundreds of students stopped by to listen to our mini lectures and visit with the pups.  This is hands down our favorite conference all year.  The students were so lovely and enthusiastic.  We had a ball.  The pups were in seventh heaven from all the affection and attention.  Thanks to all the wonderful folks who made this event possible.  You have our gratitude and praise.

Training Therapy puppy Luna on the “watch me command” for Adapted Wheelchair Dog Agility.









September 2012

Welcome to Animal Assisted Therapy – Occupational and Physical Therapy Pups.  We are an all volunteer organization who has served the medical community since 2006.  We volunteer because we have observed a consistent and significant link between working with nature (animals) and the expedition of the rehabilitative process.  We hope you find the site informative.