Today marks the 30th anniversary of the San Francisco SPCA’s Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) Program, designed to improve the lives of those facing educational, physical or mental challenges by bringing humans and animals together. Since 1981, the AAT program has worked with hundreds of volunteer teams to engage more than 60,000 people annually, whether in classrooms through the Puppy Dog Tales (PDT) Reading Program or in hospitals and nursing homes with the General AAT Program. The program is currently the oldest operating within a larger animal welfare organization.
“It has been a joy to bring the human-animal connection to individuals over the last 30 years, and witness the positive impact that animals can have on people of all ages,” said Jennifer Emmert, PhD, Animal Assisted Therapy programs manager for the SF SPCA. “We very much believe in the power of animal companionship, and thanks to our dedicated volunteers we’ve been able to grow the bond between adults, kids and our friendly pets.”
Working closely with school and library staff, the PDT Program promotes literacy in at-risk populations by encouraging students to read to therapy dogs as a means to allow children to read out loud in a comfortable, no-pressure environment. The PDT program helps children ages 4 to 16 years old who have demonstrated below-average scores on state-wide standardized reading tests. According to initial results from a three-year study of the program at E.R. Taylor Elementary School, students enrolled in the program improved their reading aptitude by nearly three-fold compared to non-participants (31 words per minute vs. 9 words per minute, on average).
“Through Puppy Dog Tales, many children who struggle to read a single sentence during their first session quickly uncover self-confidence and began to develop advanced reading skills,” continued Dr. Emmert, “Furthermore, at the SF SPCA, we believe that creating positive experiences between children and dogs at a young age will help both the children and animals in the long run. For many kids, PDT is their first experience with a dog, and we’re proud to make it a positive one.”
The SF SPCA will be celebrating 30 years of the Animal Assisted Therapy Programs and the successes of the Puppy Dog Tales Reading Program on May 16 with a party for staff and volunteers.