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Lending a Furry Paw to Enhance Therapy

Animal Assisted Therapy Programs of Colorado

Article by Lila Ruppe

Photography by Courtesy of AATPC

Originally published in Arvada Lifestyle

An Arvada organization is elevating the counseling experience by highlighting the bond between humans and animals. Clinical waiting rooms, couches, and serious doctors might come to mind when thinking of therapy. Assisted Animal Therapy Programs of Colorado is revolutionizing this idea by bringing furry friends into the mix.

The non-profit, founded in 2010, offers a new form of therapy with both licensed mental health professionals and rescue animals. With more than 12 species, from donkeys to bunnies, AATPC has a match for every client.

Development Director Becki Taylor says, “They have their own backstories and their own temperaments.” Every animal was either rescued or re-homed before becoming a member of the AATPC team. 

AATPC’s furry friends can participate in therapy in a variety of ways. The client can play with one of the animals outside while talking to the therapist or sit inside with one of their indoor animals. While the animals are cute and lovable, they also serve a vital purpose in providing effective therapy to the community. University of Tennessee research compared 10 studies on the effectiveness of animal assisted therapy and found that depressive symptoms were decreased in every case, no matter the species involved.

Animal assisted therapy has been shown to calm stress hormones and release endorphins. At AATPC, clients build relationships with the animals, and that enhances the therapy experience. Those connections can be meaningful enough to keep clients coming back to see the animals. Taylor says, “When therapy is complete, saying goodbye can be difficult.”

While animal assisted therapy is helpful for all ages, over 80% of AATPC’s clients are under 24. The ranch offers specific youth programs to connect with the younger generations. Certain animals work especially well with children with behavioral issues. Rabbits have been known to thump their feet when the child is getting elevated, which allows the child to understand the effect their behavior is having and work to calm the rabbit.

AATPC was founded almost by accident. Two doctors, Dr. Linda Chassman and Ellen Winston, had a traditional family practice before their pets, Mazey and Sasha, inspired them to bring animals into the mix. Now, AATPC has a six-month waiting list and plans to finish a new wing with six counseling rooms by the end of the year.

AATPC has served the Arvada community for over a decade. Clients with limited resources are allowed to pay within their means which expands AATPC’s services to the entire community. If you are interested in supporting the ranch, AATPC is always accepting donations on the Animal Assisted Therapy Program of Colorado website:

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