Animal lovers and those who want to pursue careers in "helping" fields have a new opportunity thanks to Saint Leo University. The university's Ocala Education Center is offering a special, interdisciplinary course during the Fall 2 Semester. The College of Education and Social Services  developed its first interdisciplinary animal assisted therapy course, Interdisciplinary Approaches: Service & Therapy Animals (IDS 300), and offered it at University Campus in spring 2018 and is offering it this fall semester. 

The course provides an overview of how human-animal interactions (HAI) and the human-animal bond (HAB) can affect animals, society, and work. It brings together several disciplines—social work, human services, and criminal justice—among others.

Much has been written on the role animals play in the human-animal relationship with various examples making the news (i.e., comfort animals on airplanes). Today, human-animal studies (HAS) is a fast-growing interdisciplinary field.

Topics of the course include: the social, physical and emotional/psychological impacts of HAI with interdisciplinary helping professions; educational benefits, therapeutic roles of animals; ethical and animal welfare considerations; and the connection between violence toward people and violence toward animals. The elective course is open to students in all disciplines.

The course will take place 5:30 to 8 p.m. in Tuesdays, beginning October 16, at Saint Leo University's Ocala Education Center, 1930 S.W. 38th Ave., in the Meadowbrook Office One complex at the intersection of South West 20th Street and South West 38th Avenue. The term ends December 9.

Dr. Jenenne Valentino-Bottaro, human services faculty member, will teach the interdisciplinary course in Ocala. She is the grants administrator for LifeStream Behavioral Center Inc. in Leesburg, FL.

Valentino-Bottaro will bring a variety of guest speakers to the new course at Saint Leo's Ocala location. Speakers include:

  • Dr. Risë VanFleet, who is known internationally for her fun and informative presentations and workshops, as well as for her books, articles, and DVDs about the fields of play therapy, filial therapy, and animal-assisted play therapy. She is a licensed psychologist, registered play therapist-supervisor, and a certified dog behavior consultant. 
  • Kristin Hise is a certified behavioral analyst assistant, certified dog trainer, and Young Living consultant through PetSmart. Hise and her sister are owners of Fluff-it Mobile, where they provide a spa setting for the dogs that they serve. Using the human-animal welfare approach, Hise teaches unique approaches to animal-assisted interventions for therapists, social workers, and human service providers. In addition, Hise created a teaching approach to assist families who have children living on the autism spectrum or other behavioral, social, and mental health challenges.
  • Kristen Hopper, a licensed social worker, is the associate vice president of child integrated services for LifeStream Behavioral Center. Hopper is an advocate for expressive arts and animal assisted Interventions for children. Hopper is noted for her work in crisis intervention and speaking at the REACH (Resiliency through Education and Community Health) events after a series of teen suicides in Lake County.

Of special interest, Valentino-Bottaro will offer students Saturday with the Horses, an opportunity to interact with her horses, B My Love and Bren, using expressive arts.

The interdisciplinary course will teach about how animals can be used for service and therapy in many fields including criminal justice, social work, and human services.

During last spring's course at University Campus, Dr. Debra Mims, assistant professor of criminal justice, taught classes regarding how therapy and service animals are used in criminal justice professions. She was joined by Dr. Rhonda Waddell and Dr. Nancy Wood, who incorporated social work and human services into the course. Mims, a retired law enforcement officer, brought colleagues to class to discuss cadaver search, apprehension of criminals, and search and rescue training.

"I'm a member of critical incident stress management teams, and we talked about dogs being used with stress teams, following police shootings, and other traumatic incidents," Mims said.

As a member of HOPE Animal-Assisted Crisis Response, Mims and her dogs assisted after the February 14 high school shooting in Parkland, Fla., as well as the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Fla. Mims discussed those experiences with the Saint Leo students.

"We talked about how these situations affect communications department and police departments," Mims said, "as these are the people who were taking calls from people in hiding. It's very high stress, and dogs can help them."

Those interested in more information about the Ocala Education Center's Interdisciplinary Approaches: Service & Therapy Animals course as well as other degree programs, may email or call (352) 671-3391.