Stray dogs to offer therapy to children with disabilities at unique new centre

(FOUR PAWS Press Release) International animal welfare organisation FOUR PAWS has opened a new Animal-Assisted Therapy Centre in the Romanian capital, in which trained former stray dogs will offer therapy to children with disabilities.

FOUR PAWS has for some time trained former stray dogs in Romania to work with disabled children and the elderly through its ‘Dogs for People’ programme.

At the new centre, which officially opened last week, children with a range of disabilities will be offered support and therapy from the dogs and their handlers, completely free of charge, as the centre is 100% financed by donations.

Dr. Anca Tomescu, Head of FOUR PAWS Stray Animal Care Romania said: “The opening of the centre is like a dream come true for us. We can now help both humans and animals at the same time and also show the world how valuable stray dogs can be in our society.

“This centre is the first of its kind in Romania, where strays trained as therapy dogs are able to help children with disabilities and learning difficulties.” The dogs are always accompanied by their trained dog handlers and the sessions are overseen by a qualified physiotherapist.

The positive effects of animal-assisted therapy have long been underestimated, however this centre will show how dogs can help to improve the physical and emotional wellbeing of children through therapy sessions.

For example, children with disabilities can improve their self-confidence with the help of animal-assisted therapy by learning how to feed and reward a dog. Unlike humans, animals approach the children in a completely unbiased way. Strays are particularly well suited to this kind of work because of their adaptability and generally good nature.

Physiotherapist Victor Chitic undertakes the supervision of the project and also conducts research into the area of “Animal-Human-Interaction” at the Babes-Bolyai University in Romania. Plans are also underway to set up cooperations between the new therapy centre and research establishments.

“For Chitic this is a big step in the right direction: “This research field has been a little neglected, despite the fact that there is an increased need for this area of physiotherapy. The FOUR PAWS therapy centre will make an important contribution here.”

FOUR PAWS project ‘Dogs for People’ has already offered animal-assisted therapy with stray dogs in Romania since 2004. Supported by local authorities children with disabilities are given therapy in local community centres.

However, the possibilities for the ‘Dogs for People’ team are always quite restricted due to a lack of space and resources. With the new centre this will now change, the team will have more space, new equipment and be able to work with up to 50 children in 2016.

The opening of the centre is also an important step for stray dogs in Romania as they have been persecuted for many years now and a humane, sustainable solution to controlling the population has yet to be implemented across the country.

The establishing of AAT with former stray dogs is one of many measures taken by FOUR PAWS (including neutering programmes and campaign work) to clearly demonstrate that these animals are of great value in human society.

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