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Sensory Tools for Pets: Animals and People Helping Each Other

Sensory Tools for Pets: Animals and People Helping Each Other

Diana A. Henry, MS, OTR/L, FAOTA and Deanna Sava, MS, OTR/L gathered wonderful stories and photos from therapists and parents highlighting techniques used with animals as well as enduring stories about animals helping children (including some with autism) and adults with sensory processing issues.

Click Here - View the Table of Contents page from our Tools for Pets book

"As a person with autism, I can really relate to using joint compression and deep pressure to help animals calm down. Lots of good ideas that can really help pets."
Temple Grandin author of Animals in Translation

"With every page I read, Sensory Tools for Pets made me smile with gratitude. It is such confirmation of the relevance of sensory integrative theory and the importance of the healing bond between us, the human animal, and the other creatures on this poor battered planet!"
Lois Hickman, MS, OTR, FAOTA, expert in sensory integration and owner of the JenLo farm, an organic farm and SI clinic where the land and the animals are valued partners in work with children and adults.

We are both occupational therapists (OTs) and share a love of animals. In our work, we focus on using strategies to help people perform their day-to-day activities and life’s roles as independently as possible when faced with challenges from birth, during childhood development, or after an injury. Occupational therapists refer to performing day-to-day activities independently as “engagement in occupation to support participation in life” (Smith, 2004). As OTs, we have also both received specialized training in sensory integration, a theory and treatment approach pioneered and developed in the mid 1990s by Dr. A. Jean Ayres (1989). Sensory integration is “the process of organizing sensory input [the five senses, as well as information from our muscles and movement senses] so that the brain produces a useful body response and also useful perceptions, emotions, and thoughts” (Ayres, 2005).

In addition, we realize that animals at times have behaviors that may appear similar to issues noted in humans. For example, parents may have unusual difficulty cutting their child’s nails and pet owners may have an animal that is extremely resistive to claw clipping. In both cases, the behavior (sensory issue) may relate to over-responsiveness to touch. We found that some of our pets benefited from the same calming and alerting techniques that we use with humans. When we spoke to other therapists (many who also had a background in sensory integration) we discovered that they, too, used many of the same sensory strategies they had used with their human clients who have sensory issues. That prompted us to ask our colleagues and friends to share their animal stories.

This book is about sensory issues and the human-animal interaction. Each human and each animal processes sensory information, but some people and animals appear to process sensations in an organized manner and others do not. Based on the work of Dr. Jean Ayres, research with children has continued to evolve in sensory integration (Ayres, 2005), sensory processing (Dunn, 1999, Hanschu, 2000) and sensory processing disorders (Miller, 2006). People process sensations on a continuum. However, the people and animals in this book appear to process sensations atypically, outside of this continuum. This causes interference with their ability to perform daily functions.

Sensory Tools for Pets: Animals and People Helping Each Other is comprised of stories describing how people have helped animals that exhibit various types of behaviors which look similar to sensory issues seen in humans. Although research linking animals to sensory issues is ongoing (Williams, 2003, Grandin, 2005), this book is not based on research. Our hope is that sharing these stories will raise awareness about possible explanations for an animals conduct other than purposeful misbehavior.