Better protection is sought to animals taking part in therapy

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According to the animal-friendly attorney Ilo-Hanna Keres Estonia lacks a legislation that would govern the involvement of animals in interventions conducted by therapists and teachers. Intervention is a targeted activity which involves animals to get therapeutic results in health care, social work, education and other fields directed to people, writes Estonian Association of Assistance and Therapy Dogs on its web page.

The existence of rules of intervention would help to protect the animals as well as the people working with them and hopefully increase the number of inclusion.

Animal-friendly attorney Ilo-Hanna Keres confirmed that in Estonia, the valid Animal Protection Act regulates first and foremost the protection of animals from activity or inactivity of humans which endangers or may endanger the health and well-being of the animal. “The same act could regulate the activities conducted with the help of animals participating in the interventions because the well-being of an animal included in treatment of learning process is as important as the well-being of all others,” explained Keres.

The Animal Protection Act foresees that animals trained for special assignments, used by blind, police or rescue board, must, as all pets, regularly undergo a health assessment. “In addition, the animal must have the possibility for a species-specific behavior, such as to scrape, dig, chew, etc., possibility to see and hear everything in or around the building and possibility to communicate. The Law Enforcement Act treats service animal as special equipment and assistive device, also the guide dogs for enabled persons are treated as assistive devices. The regulation of therapy dog is not available at all,” added Keres.

Maarja Tali, member of the management board of Estonian Association of Assistance and Therapy Dogs (EAATD) says that in Estonia, dogs and horses are mostly involved to interventions, but in the rest of the world, using other animals, such as mini pigs, cats and birds, is common.

Tali agrees that Estonia needs rules which would help to protect the animals taking part in interventions. “An animal that is stressed or tired may react differently from the usual. In order to prevent such situations, it is important to define specific conditions that should be considered by therapists and teachers who have included an animal in their work,” Tali explained. During the intervention, it is very important to observe that the dog would not be traumatized or exhausted. “The character of a specific dog must also be considered. Therefore, a dog who cannot stand being pulled by the tail, hugged, or other activities done by children, is not appropriate for a toddler therapy; the same dog might be excellent in communicating with elderly or being a “reading” dog,” added Tali.

Different interventions conducted with the help of animals in order to increase the well-being of humans is a new field in Estonia and the decision to for its implementation is made by the manager of the specific health or educational institution. “If the decision has been made to include animals in therapeutic or learning process, the manager of the institution must conclude a contract that provides in addition to the fee also the responsibilities of the parties and conditions for the provision of services. According to the law valid at the moment, the provisions of an object are applied to the animal and the owner of the animal is responsible if the animal causes damage, independent of his/her fault in causing such damage. At the same time applying the provisions of objects to animals is necessary in certain cases in order to protect the disabled persons, who use the assistance dogs as assistive devices and can move around with the animal everywhere,” Keres introduced the valid law.

 “In cooperation with Estonian Society for the Protection of Animals I am currently trying to resolve the issue of implementing the regulation of things on animals. We are studying the practice of other countries at the moment in order to transpose the best of it. By fall, we plan to have our motion to amend,” Keres introduced the future plans in protecting the animal rights. Both Tali and Keres confirm that animals deserve our friendship, respect and responsibility, as only this way they can be of help and they can offer mental and physical support to the members of society.

Article is published in Delfi.

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