A Professor’s Passion: Progress in Animal Therapy

By Ryan Hickey

The College of Integrative and Educational studies’ Dr. Aubrey Fine feared dogs as a child but over 45 years coincidentally became more than an animal lover – but a pioneer in therapy using human and animals.

What led Fine to studying this field was coincidentally bringing his pet gerbil Sasha to a program for children with learning impairments such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. His curiosity sparked after acknowledging these children who were ordinarily rambunctious instead wanted to be calm and gentle with the gerbil.

“Looking back, who would think a gerbil would change my life. I never forgot the change of engagement a kid gets when working with an an animal,” said Fine.

Since then, he’s received his masters of psychology at University of Cincinnati, has been a licensed psychologist since 1987, lectured widely and published 15 other books, including “How Animals Help Students Learn.”

Co-edited with Nancy Gee and Peggy McCardle, Fine wrote the book intending it to be a “map and compass” for any teacher or administrator who’s interested in utilizing animals in an educational setting.

The book entails how animals can help children feel more comfortable at school and could lower anxiety. Therapy animals can be especially helpful with children who lack self-confidence and are struggling in school.

“While other kids don’t want to talk to the boy with milder cognitive needs,” recalls Fine. “The dog helps him know he is important.”

The book describes therapy animals constructing a positive environment for children who might be too scared to read aloud to a class.

Owning a pet is healthy. Studies show petting an animal could lower cortisol – the stress hormone. Oxytocin, commonly called the “love hormone,” increases in the pet owner and the pet.

Fine uses dogs, cats, birds and even the occasional lizard but not all animals can be therapy animals. True therapy animals must have an affinitive nature and an easygoing temperament.

Administers of therapy animals have to care not only for the person getting treatment but also the animal.

“As concerned as I am for the children I want to make sure its not only safe but a positive experience for the animals,” said Fine.

A chapter in his book reflects on this very issue, it guides anybody curious on the proper way to care for therapy animals.

Skeptics that argue therapy animals are more likely to distract students than help them forget that these animals are exceptionally trained. If done correctly, the animals don’t make a ruckus and in turn develops an environment of calmness asserts Fine.

Fine donates all of the proceeds made from his books are given to scholarships specifically designed for undergrad and grad students who are studying in the field of human-animal interactions.

Fine looks back at his work as a “passion by accident,” with no sign of waning.

Dr. Aubrey Fine and his dog Mystic work together in classrooms to benefit students

Courtesy of Cal Poly Pomona

Dr. Aubrey Fine and his dog Mystic work together in classrooms to benefit students

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