A ‘Fine’ type of therapy

By Brittany Chavez

With pictures of his dogs, exotic birds, and reptiles adorning
the walls of his office, there is no doubt Aubrey Fine is a lover
of animals.

Ask any faculty member who knows Fine, and he or she will say
his face lights up and smiles every time he talks about Puppy ” his
most beloved dog ” or his first dog, Goldie. There’s also Magic,
PJ, Heart, Shrimp and a bearded dragon named Spikey, just to name a
few.

Fine, psychotherapist and professor in the College of Education
and Integrative Studies at Cal Poly Pomona, is internationally
renowned for his research on the benefits of incorporating
animal-assisted therapy.

“I just know him as a loving, caring man,” said Lisa Lee,
administrative specialist of the Department of Education. “He’s a
pleasure to work with. Every time he comes into my office to ask
for something, he never forgets to ask how I’m doing. He’s always
happy, always pleasant.”

As a high school student, Fine became interested in helping
children. In his early 20s, he began working with children with
learning disabilities and the emotionally disturbed, implementing a
social-skill training program as therapy.

It may be surprising to learn that Fine never owned an animal
when he was growing up ” he was even afraid of dogs.

“I grew up poor in Canada and lived in a tiny apartment with my
mom who didn’t like dogs or cats,” said Fine. “I finally convinced
her that she and I get over our fears by investing in a small
animal.”

Fine’s proposition to his mother manifested into the adoption of
a gerbil named Sasha.

“I didn’t know what I was doing,” said Fine. “I had my pet
gerbil Sasha and this program with kids with learning disabilities.
So one day I brought her in and to my surprise, the children
started behaving differently.”

He found the interaction between Sasha and the children to be
his first serendipitous experience.

The rowdiest of children came up to Fine and timidly asked if
they could hold the gerbil while promising to be gentle.

Thirty-five years later, in his years working with children,
Fine has used birds, lizards and a series of dogs for
animal-assisted therapy.

Jake Magnant, an alumnus who is working toward his teaching
credential, is a former student of Fine.

“I learned a lot in [Fine’s] class,” said Magnant. “He is very
knowledgeable and has a great personality.”

Fine and the Department of Education have issued a proposal for
a large Cal Poly Pomona grant that would look at the roles therapy
animals could have to enhance reading skills for children with
Asperger’s syndrome, a form of high-functioning autism.

Fine said animal therapy has many psychological benefits and if
the department’s study is funded, he hopes to show the positive
impact animals would have in a tutoring room, creating a more
positive and relaxed environment.

In one of his nine published books ” “Handbook on
Animal-Assisted Therapy: Theoretical Foundations and Guidelines for
Practice” ” Fine states that petting an animal is like a
“biochemical spa treatment” because neurotransmitters are adjusted
while levels of serotonin and dopamine are enhanced.

Research also shows that petting an animal will increase
oxytocin, the “love hormone,” also found in women who are pregnant
and breastfeeding.

Fine has participated in various civic activities with his Cal
Poly Pomona students, including the Pets All Love and Support
program, which assists elderly people with daily activities.

“When you’re done with school, what are you going to remember?”
said Fine. “I want our students to have a balanced education, not
only including academic books, but one that helps them recognize
their place and role in our society.”

A

Chis McCarthy / The Poly Post

A ‘Fine’ type of therapy

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