Animal-Assisted Interventions

Several years ago, Allison White went to a retreat center called The Equine Experience. There, she learned about and experienced the power and intelligence of horses. What she learned intrigued her, so she began reading more about horses and equine therapy. She even met with a local therapist to see how she used her horses for team-building to help people learn to work together and to find out how she uses horses to help her clients overcome obstacles.

Today’s guest, Dr. Aviva Vincent, is a therapist who grew up with a horse and experienced first-hand how that helped her through many of life’s challenges. Later on in her life, that experience guided her education, research, and career.

There are many life lessons that we can learn from animals. Be sure to join me today as I speak to Aviva about horses, equine therapy, and the power of collaborating with horses to heal.

Dr. Aviva Vincent, PhD, LMSW/VSW:

Dr. Aviva Vincent is a doctoral graduate of Case Western Reserve University, Mandel School of Social Welfare in veterinary social work. Her research focuses on the biological impact that animals have on children, specifically in the reduction of fear and anxiety in stressful situations. Additionally, her research includes integration of physiological measures in social science research (e.g. saliva collection for measures of oxytocin, alpha-amylase, and cortisol).

She is co-owner and founder of Healing Paws, LLC, the only Veterinary Social Work practice in Northeast Ohio. Her background in veterinary social work informs her practice as the Director of Program Quality at Fieldstone Farm Therapeutic Riding Center in Chagrin Falls, Ohio. In this capacity, she is responsible for ensuring high-quality programs in adaptive riding, hippotherapy, carriage driving, and ground lessons offered to over 1,000 participants annually.

She is an instructor of Animal Assisted Interventions at the University of Tennessee in the Veterinary Social Work Certificate Program. Aviva serves as the co-chair of the human-animal interactions work-group with the National Association of Social Workers-Ohio chapter and serves on the board of the International Association of Veterinary Social Work.

While watching TV one morning, an interview caught my attention. The story was about a little girl called Scarlett, her family, and how their love for animals led to the development of a special program to rescue animals. Scarlett had cancer, and she spoke about her relationship with her pets and the support they gave her. The story was one of hope and heartbreak, and it showed the power of friendship and love, and the important role that animals play in our lives. 

I am always eager to spread the word when it comes to rescuing animals. After watching the interview, I emailed Robin Chwatco, Scarlett’s mother, and she agreed to talk to me on the podcast. In this episode, Robin shares Scarlett’s story. She talks to me about her dream and explains what she did to turn it into a reality. Be sure to tune in today to hear the heart-warming story about Scarlett and her love for animals. You will learn how a child’s simple idea led to the development of a program to rescue animals.

Robin Chwatko:

For over two decades, Robin Chwatko has developed and implemented communication and branding strategies for a wide range of clients, from startups to restaurants and chefs, politicians, consumer goods, television, arts organizations, and prestigious national and local non-profits. With a passion for philanthropy and community, she is most proud of the two charity organizations she has built with her children, comedy kids, and most recently draw for paws, in honor and memory of her daughter, with a mission to support animal welfare and rescue. 

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Today, I am happy to be speaking to Emily Gelb, who works at the Ashville Humane Society. Emily has helped expand community-based programs that aim to increase access to pet services in under-served communities. That includes helping people in crisis and finding ways for them to keep their pets at home. Having pets can be expensive. So, as part of my community project in the veterinary social work program, I also try to find helpful resources to assist low-income clients to keep their pets. I know how important animals are in people’s lives, so that project was important to me. In this episode, Emily shares many great ideas for how a community can come together to serve their people and pets in need. Stay tuned for more!

Like many others in the animal welfare field, Emily just fell into it. While serving in the Peace Corps, she volunteered at a vet clinic in a nearby city and worked with a grassroots dog rescue. When she returned from the Peace Corps, she met the north-east Regional Director with HSUS and ended up interning with her for several months. Through that internship, Emily learned about the range of different activities happening within the animal welfare field that she had no idea about before. When a Safety-Net Coordinator position opened up at Ashville Humane Society, it seemed like a perfect combination for her to get to help pets and people. Listen in today, to hear Emily’s story and find out about her great ideas for how communities can come together to provide solutions for people and their pets who are in need. 

Emily Gelb:

Emily Gelb is the Director of Community Solutions at Asheville Humane Society. An NH native, she has worked at AHS for the last six years, and she has expanded the department to include multiple community-based programs aimed at increasing access to pet services in underserved communities, providing assistance for individuals in crisis, and keeping pets in homes. As a Returned Peace Corps volunteer, she is dedicated to using a participatory approach to community-based programming and is passionate about serving the immigrant community and individuals experiencing homelessness. Emily recently completed her Human-Animal Support certificate through UTK’s Veterinary Social Work program and is currently working with UT’s AlignCare program as a Veterinary Social Work Coordinator. Emily resides in Asheville, NC, with her beloved Ecuadorian jungle dog, Sisa, and Sundew, her recently adopted cat.

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Today, I am excited to speak with our guest, Jeannine Moga. Jeannine is a licensed clinical social worker with specialties in veterinary social work, stress reduction, pet loss, and bereavement. She is also a veterinary social worker, and she has been an educator and consultant. She is joining me today to tell her story and talk about the work she does. Stay tuned for more!

Jeannine was one of my instructors at the University of Tennessee in the veterinary social work program. She has walked a long and winding path to get to where she is today. She started her veterinary social work training in 2002. After that, she worked full-time in the veterinary social work field in a veterinary hospital and then spent a fair amount of time working specifically in veterinary medicine and veterinary hospitals, doing an assortment of education and programming. Be sure to listen in today, to find out about the work that Jeannine does, using animal-assisted interventions.

Jeannine Moga, MA, MSW, LCSW:

Jeannine is a licensed clinical social worker with specialties in veterinary social work, stress resilience, and grief and loss. She has developed and led two veterinary social work programs (Veterinary Social Services at the University of Minnesota’s Veterinary Medical Center, and Family & Community Services at NC State University’s Veterinary Hospital) and works with veterinary, animal welfare, and social services professionals across the country to address the intersections of human and animal health and well-being. Her interests include occupational well-being in service professions, the delivery and evaluation of animal-assisted interventions, and clinical bioethics/moral distress in veterinary practice. She maintains a private clinical and veterinary consulting practice in Southeast Virginia, serves as the Director of Ethics and Standards of Practice for the International Association of Veterinary Social Work, and is also the Chief Happiness Officer for VETgirl, a multimedia veterinary continuing education provider. 

I’m sure you’ve heard about animals being used to comfort people during times of crisis, whether it be a national or local disaster. Have you ever wondered how these animals were trained to use these very unique skills known as animal-assisted crisis response? Did you know that there is extensive training required above and beyond basic obedience and animal-assisted therapy training? Please join me as I speak with Nick Meier from HOPE Animal-Assisted Crisis Response as we discuss the training involved and the differences in certifications depending on the type of assistance needed. Nick also shares heartwarming stories about the comfort these animals provide to humans during times of need inside this episode of The Animal Academy Podcast!

Nick Meier:

Nicholas and Julia Meier, along with Katie Lynn and Jett, at the 2015 dedication of the Humphrey’s Building, formerly Building 197, at the Washington Navy Yard.

About Nick: Nicholas Meier is the Midwest Regional Director of HOPE.  He has served in the position since 2017.  He supervises thirty other canine teams throughout the Midwest Region and describes those teams as the most dedicated group he has ever had the pleasure of working with.  He joined HOPE in 2013 with his first dog, Katie Lynn.  His first deployment was to the Washington Navy Yard shooting in September of 2013.  He returned to the WNY three more times over the course of two years.  He has deployed to numerous other crises and disasters, including over forty deployments to schools in the wake of student and faculty deaths.  Katie Lynn, a tri-pod, golden retriever, cancer survivor crossed the Rainbow Bridge at the age of 14 in June, 2019.  He currently has two HOPE dogs:  Ischgl, a black lab who is a retired leader dog; and, Kayak, a golden retriever.  Nick’s wife, Julia, is also a HOPE team member and deploys with him.  She is cross trained with both Ischgl and Kayak.  Julia’s first HOPE dog, also a retired leader dog, passed away in 2016.

About HOPE: HOPE Animal-Assisted Crisis Response (HOPE AACR) is a national, non-profit 501(c)3 membership organization. Since 1999, and especially in response to the 9/11 attacks, the HOPE AACR network of volunteers has provided comfort and encouragement through animal assisted support to individuals affected by crises and disasters. Since its inception, HOPE AACR has been the premier source of training teams in animal-assisted crisis response (AACR).  Different from Animal-Assisted Activities/ Animal-Assisted Therapies (AAA/ AAT) or Therapy Dogs, HOPE AACR teams, or Crisis Comfort Dogs, are specifically trained to deploy during times of crises or disasters.

Teams are screened for suitability, trained to respond to intense emotional and environmental situations, crisis communication skills, stress management, canine behavior and welfare, and field training with emergency responders.  Teams are required to maintain their skills through continuing education training and participation in crisis response drills.  In addition, teams complete a monthly criminal history and sex offender registry check.

HOPE teams have responded to a wide variety of crises and disasters:  Ground Zero after 9/11, Hurricaine Katrina, Superstorm Sandy, floods and wild fires throughout the country, line of duty deaths, and student deaths to name a few.  HOPE teams work closely with a wide variety of government and non-government organizations such as FEMA, state and federal first responders, the Coast Guard, EPA, Red Cross, the Salvation Army, and local school districts to name a few.  HOPE teams supplement an agency’s existing crisis response plan and deploy at the direction of the requesting agency.  HOPE teams never self-deploy and respond free of charge.

There are over 350 HOPE teams across seven regions in the United States and Canada.  Each region is supervised by a volunteer Regional Director who works under the direction of a volunteer Board of Directors.

As a clinical social worker who has been part of the healthcare system for many years, I’ve recognized the valuable influence animals have on my clients lives. I’ve also benefited from having animals as part of my family since I was young. When clients come to me for therapy after the loss of a pet they often feel shame after being told “it’s only a pet” or they feel guilty because this loss impacts them as much or more than the loss of a human loved one.

When I began my community service project as part of the veterinary and social work program I read everything I could find on the importance of the human-animal relationship. One book that was helpful was called ‘Animal Assisted Therapy And Activities’ by Phil Arkow. It’s an amazing resource guide for the use of animals in animal assisted interventions. This also helped me as a volunteer for the touch therapy program that I was involved in with my golden retriever for many years.

I am honored to have Phil Arkow join me on this episode so he can enlighten us about the work he has done in the field and the many projects that help to educate professionals on the importance on the human animal connection.

Phil Arkow: 

Internationally acclaimed lecturer, author and educator Phil Arkow is coordinator of the National LINK Coalition – the National Resource Center on The LINK between Animal Abuse and Human Violence – and edits the monthly LINK-Letter. He chairs the Latham Foundation’s Animal Abuse and Family Violence Prevention Project. He teaches at the University of Florida, and Harcum College. He has presented over 250 times in 17 countries, 38 states and 9 Canadian provinces, and has authored over 80 key reference works on human-animal interactions and violence prevention.

He co-founded the National Link Coalition, the National Animal Control Association, and the Colorado and New Jersey humane federations. He has served with the AVMA, the ASPCA, American Humane, the Delta Society, the Animals & Society Institute, the National Sheriffs Association, the National Coalition on Violence Against Animals, the National District Attorneys Association, the Academy on Violence & Abuse, and the American Association of Human-Animal Bond Veterinarians. He received a Lifetime Achievement Award from New Jersey Child Assault Prevention.

Inside the Animal Academy Podcast I speak with people from all different areas of specialization’s regarding their experiences with a human/animal connection. My hope is to broaden all of our perspectives on what’s available and to spark interest in others that also appreciate the role that animals play in our lives.

I met Dr. Pam Linden while attending the University of Tennessee‘s veterinary social work program. I admired her passion and energy and learned from her expertise and guidance throughout the program. She has some exciting programs to share with us and I am honored to speak with Dr. Linden about these new developments in the field during this episode of the Animal Academy Podcast.

Pam Linden, MSW, PhD: 

Dr. Pam Linden earned her MSW and PhD at Stony Brook University School of Social Welfare. She is the Director of Veterinary Social Work for the Align Care Healthcare program. Dr. Linden holds a certificate in Veterinary Social Work from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, where she is an instructor in the Veterinary Social Work and Veterinary Human Support Certificate programs. She is the founding President of the International Association of Veterinary Social Work. Dr. Linden is a Clinical Associate Professor at the Stony Brook University School of Health Technology & Management in Stony Brook, Long Island, New York where she teaches Animal Assisted Therapy for Health Professional and Disability Studies. Dr. Linden administered programs for individuals with serious mental illness, conducted research problem solving courts for both juvenile delinquents and veteran’s and as a research scientist at the New York State Psychiatric Institute she studied mandated outpatient psychiatric treatment. Dr. Linden is co-editor of the forthcoming volume The Comprehensive Guide to Interdisciplinary Veterinary Social Work, to be published by Springer in 2022.

Life often takes us places we never could have anticipated. Even military brat Kelly Brownfield can attest to this. Kelly grew up in Germany and returned to her home state, South Carolina, after graduation. Despite her constant moves, life surprised her when it urged her to move to Missouri, and many more surprises accompanied her. She landed an opportunity to work with the USO, and the most special dog fell right into her lap. Kelly shares how she’s leveraged these gifts and established programs for the USO to further support families and children in a plethora of ways. Join Allison in this conversation with Kelly Brownfield to hear more about her story. 

Kelly Brownfield 
Western Missouri Regional Operations Director

Kelly prides herself on being a proud military brat, she accounts a lot of her success in life due to her upbringing overseas where she spent most of her childhood throughout Germany where she moved 7 times until she graduated from Heidelberg American High School in Heidelberg, Germany.  After graduation Kelly returned to her home state, South Carolina where she remained for 10 years.  In 2008 Kelly’s father, Mr. Bill Brownfield was stationed at Fort Leonard Wood, from Heidelberg, Germany and on December 31, 2008 Kelly took a leap of faith and moved out to Missouri leaving everything familiar behind to find a new start, not knowing where it would lead her. By March of 2009, she landed an opportunity of a lifetime by being employed by the USO of Missouri, Inc.  She started off as the Operations Coordinator and by November 2010 she took the position as the Fort Leonard Wood USO Center Director and most recently in May 2018 was promoted to the Western Regional Operations Director for the USO of Missouri, Inc.  Since starting her employment with the USO, Kelly has seen over a half of million troops walk through those USO doors, and she will be the first to tell you that each person has come with their own story, some of those stories and encounters have left a profound impact on her over the years and it is those stories that drive Kelly to do the best she can, knowing that in some cases what they have done has saved a life.  Since taking the position as Center Director, she has implemented many programs ranging from USO Family Game Night’s to USO baby showers to specialized Wounded Warrior events to creating the USO Comfort Dog Program, just to name a few.  Many of the programs Kelly has created have received national attention, with many of her programs being implemented on military post all over the world, for their focus on military wellness and bringing families together, while other programs have led to opportunities of a lifetime, such as her trips to Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, MD where Kelly was invited to bring Fort Leonard Wood’s USO Comfort Dogs to work directly with our nations wounded warriors, as well as working with Arlington National Cemetery and having the USO Comfort Dogs escort the children to the burial of their parent.  Kelly embraces the value of teamwork and feels her success is not due to what she has done on her own, but that her success is due to those who have come together around her to work as a team.

 “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”  -Helen Keller


Today, we continue our discussion with another professional in the field of Veterinary Social Work. Veterinary Social Work is a field that keeps on growing as more and more people recognize the important role that animals play in the healing process.

Today, I am speaking with Dr. Bethanie Poe. Bethanie strives to bring animal-assisted interventions to victims of violence, abuse, and neglect. She started her Master’s program at the University of Tennessee’s College of Social Work in 2005. The college had two tracks at the time, Clinical, and Management and Community Practice. Bethanie entered the Master’s program, thinking that she wanted to be a Clinical Social Worker who would eventually have a private practice doing therapy, particularly with survivors of abuse. During her first internship, however, she quickly discovered that that was not a good fit for her, and she did not enjoy it at all. So she switched from Clinical to the Management and Community Practice track. 

In this episode, Bethanie shares some powerful stories about her work with the University of Tennessee’s programs and animal-assisted interventions that help people in their healing journeys. Bethanie’s story is a fine example of the idea that you will eventually end up right where you are supposed to be. Be sure to stay tuned today to find out what Bethanie has to tell us about the work she is doing to protect victims of abuse and ensure that the rights of animals are recognized, respected, and upheld.

Bethanie Poe, LMSW, PhD: 

Bethanie A. Poe, LMSW is a graduate of the University of Tennessee’s College of Social Work’s PhD program. She was a Fellow in UT’s Veterinary Social Work program where she assisted in the development of the Veterinary Social Work Certificate Program for concurrent and post-graduate students.  She began her work in family violence almost fifteen years ago, working first in a domestic violence shelter before moving on to work in child protection. She then continued her work in the field at the Tennessee Coalition to End Domestic & Sexual Violence where she worked with batterers’ intervention programs. Dr. Poe is currently the Middle Tennessee Coordinator for UT’s Human-Animal Bond in Tennessee (H.A.B.I.T) program where she strives to bring animal assisted interventions to victims of violence, abuse, and neglect. 

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