Rep. Pavalock supports bill dealing with animal therapy programs

house republicansState Rep. Cara Pavalock (R-77) supported a bill to establish a state protocol for animal therapy programs that could help other children living with trauma and loss, according to a press release from her office.

The legislation, HB-6725, “An Act Concerning Animal-Assisted Therapy Services,” makes several changes to the law concerning animal-assisted therapy services, including requiring the Department of Children and Families commissioner, in consultation with the agriculture commissioner to develop a protocol to identify and mobilize animal-assisted critical incident response teams statewide, said the news release.

Pavalock said, according to her news release, “Animal-assisted interventions and therapy have become an integral part of trauma informed treatment for children who’ve experienced any life change, or emotional, or traumatic event. It is also a very successful therapy in working with children who have developmental disabilities. The programs help children learn to manage their emotions and behaviors in positive ways and to improve their self-esteem. I proudly support this bill which broadens the definition of animal-assisted activity and also includes other animals in addition to dogs that can be certified for therapy. I am hopeful that many more at-risk children will benefit from these services.”

The news release said the bill changes the definition of “animal-assisted activity” as any activity that involves a team consisting of a registered handler and therapy animal interacting with people in Connecticut. An “animal-assisted critical incident response team” would now be defined as a team of registered handlers and therapy animals that (a) has been identified by DCF and (b) can provide animal-assisted activities to individuals during and after traumatic events.

The legislation would require the animal-assisted critical incident response teams to be available to provide animal-assisted activities, said the news release. As under current law, the teams must operate on a volunteer basis and be available on 24 hours’ notice.

The bill requires the state to work with the animal-assisted activity community to develop a protocol by July 1, 2016, said the news release. The protocol would identify and credential animal-assisted activity organizations and animal-assisted therapy providers in the state. This protocol must provide animal-assisted activities and therapy, not just animal-assisted therapy as under current law, for children and youths living with trauma and loss.

In the news release, Pavalock stated that this bill just fine tunes an existing law passed in 2013, in the wake of the Newtown school shootings, which required training for any therapy animals.