To increase emotional and mental well being of children and adults with or without therapeutic needs, Minal Kavishwar introduced animal assisted therapy (AAT) in India. By combining the qualities of a therapist and trained animal, during interaction with clients, Minal is unlocking latent capacities for communication and empathy.
Minal first introduced animal assisted therapy to people/ children with intellectual disabilities, eventually using it with juvenile delinquents, senior citizens, cancer patients and individuals experiencing stress. Pups and dogs, undergo intensive training to become therapy dogs along with owners who are trained as well to understand therapeutic benefits of human-animal interaction. A large network of volunteers have been key to her successful expansion and commit to work at least 2-3 days a week. Volunteers undergo training and are usually allotted localities close to them. Minal has now started an online course to provide initial training for AAT owing to a huge interest shown by people to become therapists. Using a partnership model, Minal is expanding to different schools and institutions across Pune, Mumbai, Bangalore and Delhi.
Trained therapy dogs are also introduced in experiential settings to help children with behavioural or emotional problems or those with developmental reading and learning disabilities. This helps the child focus on studies, develop moral values, empathy and social skills. This Animal Assisted Education program plans activities around the therapy dog and creates individual goals like encouraging the child to read out to the dog or learn languages by speaking to the dog. It has been successfully conducted in over 15 bookstores, 2 organizations for education of underprivileged children, 1 centre for at risk children, 3 normal schools, 2 integrated schools and over 15 special schools in Mumbai and Pune.
To spread awareness about the idea of animal therapy and to overcome fears and misconceptions about certain animals, volunteers are also encouraged to visit places like orphanages, old age homes, paediatric Cancer Centres, nursery schools, libraries etc. with therapy dogs. For,example, at Bal Kalyan Sanstha, about a 1000 students from minimum of three special schools visit everyday to get exposed to rabbits, fishes and dogs and experience immense benefits in their emotional and social interactions.
Minal now plans to get therapy dogs accepted in hospitals as supplementary treatment. She is also working towards getting them included as service dogs for therapy in the Disability Act. Minal is forming the first regulatory body in India for therapy dogs to help raise awareness and regulate their use.
Note: This was updated in June, 2014. Read on for the ELECTION profile