Pet therapy

There is no national law in our country regarding Animal Assisted Interventions, even though “cooperation with animals for Pet Therapy” was recognized as an official cure by the Decree of the President of the Council of Ministers dated 28th February 2003. Thanks to this Decree, for the first time in our history, the role an animal can have in a person’s affective life was finally defined along with the therapeutic value of a pet’s company.. Some initiatives followed at a regional level. In Veneto for instance, under regional law n. 3 dated 3rd January 2005, “Decisions about complementary therapies”, the intention was to “promote the knowledge, study and use of new supporting and integrating treatments to clinical-therapeutic cure, such as smile therapy, or gelotology, and animal assisted therapy, or Pet Therapy” (art.1). It is worth mentioning regional law n. 11 in Puglia, dated 21st May 2008 regarding “Regulations in the field of animal assisted therapies and activities”; law n. 11 in Piedmont dated 18th February 2010 regarding “Regulations in the field of pet therapy – animal assisted therapy and animal assisted activity” and also a law issued in Friuli Venezia Giulia regarding "Regulations in the field of animal assisted therapy and activities (pet therapy)". Finally, we would like to mention some regional and provincial regulations regarding pet protection, that also include laws for pet therapy, such as law n. 59 dated 20th October 2009 and issued in Tuscany, law n.4 of the Autonomous Province of Trento dated 28th March 2012, which modifies provincial law n. 16 dated 23rd July 2010 and the decision of the Regional Council in Valle d’Aosta that issued law n. 1731 on 24th August 2012.
In 2002, the Ministry of Health appointed the National Committee for Bioethics (CNB) with the task to carry out an analysis on Pet Therapy from a bioethics point of view. The research produced a document titled “Bioethics problems regarding the use of animals in activities related to human health and wellbeing. The therapeutic man-animal alliance”, approved by the CNB on 21st October 2005. In particular, this document underlines the fact that to preserve man and animal wellbeing during Pet therapy activities, the CNB hopes that: “researches are carried out to identify the actual benefits for human health and wellbeing in practices involving animals […] and in particular in the case of very organized practices, such as activities carried out with assistance animals, animal assisted activities (AAA) and especially animal assisted therapies (AAT); b) researches are carried out to identify any possible modification in animals’ wellbeing, to avoid exposing animals to a use (in the activities or in the working methods) that can lead them to conditions of discomfort […]”.
Finally, the CNB underlines that, in many applications, AATs, are currently only a working hypothesis awaiting for appropriate scientifically-founded verifications, so public funding should only be required within scientific research projects.
Another important document of reference is the “Modena Charter 2002”, the charter of values and principles for Pet Relationship, elaborated under the patronage of the following institutions: Ministry of Health, SIUA (Man-Animal interaction society), SCIVAC (Italian veterinarian cultural society for pets), Istituto Zooprofilattico Sperimentale dell'Abruzzo e del Molise "G. Caporale" (institute to help prevent diseases in domestic herds of animals), University of Bologna – Faculty of Veterinary Medicine and FNOVI (National Federation of Italian Vets). The subject of the Charter is “to establish the principles for a correct fruition of the man-animal relation”. In particular, it states that “the relation with pets represents a fundamental value for man and the domestication process has to be recognized as a form of heritage […]”. “Man-animal interaction involves important emotional, cognitive, educational, assistance and therapeutic values, that must be promoted, preserved and enhanced within society […]”. The animals involved must be chosen for their physiologic and behavioural features that are compatible with the project’s goals. The health and psychophysical and functional wellbeing of animals must be constantly monitored and guaranteed. Furthermore, it is necessary to implement an “educational programme to enhance animals’ cognitive potential and protect their psychophysical wellbeing”. The Charter also underlines “the importance of appropriate professional competences with regard to users’ features” and identifies theoretical zooanthropology as a cultural reference base for Pet Therapy.
Finally, the ISTISAN 7/35 report, “Animal Assisted Therapies and Activities: analysis of the situation in Italy and guidelines proposed”, describes important and significant pet therapy experiences carried out in Italy and it explains “some recommendations for the good practice of AAA and AAT. The Report also mentions the definitions proposed by Delta Society (Pet Partners), currently the main world organization dealing with Pet Therapy, which states that it can be divided into three main categories: “Animal Assisted Activities” (AAA), “Animal Assisted Therapies” (AAT) and “Animal Assisted Education” (AAE).

Claudio Pasolli