Animal-Assisted Interventions


The ADAPT (Assisted Dog and Pony Therapy) program for Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) at Nemours Children’s Specialty Care in Jacksonville, Florida, is a first-of-its kind model to incorporate animals into clinical, therapeutic treatment planning for Nemours patients.

Through a partnership with local experts at the University of North Florida Brooks College of Health, Nemours will implement an AAT program to benefit patients and conduct large-scale studies that contribute to research for the benefit of people and animals, everywhere.

Left to right: Asher, Eli, and Maezie


Maezie at the office

Dogs and trainers in elevator

Maezie at the office

Left to right: Asher, Eli, and Maezie

The Nemours class created six videos on teaching and learning at home for parents and children.

You can view the videos here

My Dear Humans and Fellow Canines,

All faculty members at UNF have some responsibility for teaching, research, and service. Dog faculty members are NO EXCEPTION! In addition to co-teaching CMHC classes with Dr. Taylor, she and I are working on a couple of research projects with some community partners. Let me introduce you to the Nemours Children’s Specialty Clinic of Jacksonville. They invited us to do a presentation for their clinical team last year, and man, the room was packed! The Chief Medical Officer was there and a whole bunch of heads of departments. I am so glad my signature UNF jersey was clean! Anyway, we, well, talked about the impact Animal Assisted Therapy on healthcare. At the same time, I provided the audience with the experience of having their blood pressure decrease, and their mood lifted simply by just being in the room! They LOVED it! When I smiled at them, wagged my tail, and moved in for more pets (or a closer look at their chicken sandwich), they wanted the magic we have at UNF for their very own. This was not a problem! UNF’s Brooks College of Health and Nemours are great friends already, so it was just a matter of working out the details.

It took a few months, but an Implementation Science Research Project was approved, and we identified six Nemours professional post-graduate team members to enroll in our fall Animal-Assisted Therapy in Counseling Certificate program. They would serve as the implementation team with representatives from management, lead my Nurse Manager Jennifer Pfieffer, ARNP and, a separate research team, lead by Dr. Nicole Kahhan, Lic. Psy., was identified to do research the program outcomes once they were able to get going. 

It seems we spent the whole first year to get the implementation team trained. They are in their last class this summer and will graduate on July 31 with their Graduate Certificate in Animal Assisted Therapy in Counseling. I am so PROUD of them — they are amazing people! Now, part of the course work was drafting policies and procedures for administration and learning about how to include animals and the human-animal bond to help people heal.

We were doing PAWSITIVELY AWESOME! The humans came up with a brilliant and spiffy name, ADAPT (Assisted Dog and Pony Therapy) because that is what they are a team of dogs and ponies working with their humans to help the Nemours kids ADAPT to life and stuff that does not feel so good so they can grow up healthy and whole. If that was cool enough, the humans all had animal partners, or throughout this year, they found animal partners to work with them in the program! Oh, may, it was awesome!

We started in Spring holding classes on-site at Nemours and bringing in the mini-horses (Gypsy, Taco, and Buc) for training, but then the best part was when the DOGS come in! Yes, I was able to mentor four dogs officially (Asher, Maezie, Teddy, and Judge) that the team members already had as partners, and then there was a pup (Penny) specially selected for the program. We decided that the animals needed their board of directors, so it was decided the animals who already had their Pet Partners registration would serve as the founding Animal Board of Directors for ADAPT! Asher was elected President. Who is going to argue with him, he is a GREAT DANE! I took the role of Vice President to support Asher. I am an advisor anyway because mom, I mean Dr. Taylor, and I are here providing technical assistance from UNF while they get started. Anyway, Maezie, a Staffordshire Terrier, is the secretary-treasurer. She is the only one that can operate a computer and spreadsheet (she is so smart!).

Anyway, we were unstoppable… and then some stupid human disease came — Covid-19 — and everybody had to stay home. I won’t go into it, but it was a shock to all of us, but we still had a class to finish, and we could not practice in the clinic anymore with each other, so Ms. Jenny came up with the idea that the class would create videos and teach Psycho Ed concepts on having to stay safe with the animals at home. It meant we had to have a few friends join in too to have enough animals, and they did it! The Nemours class created six very cool videos and Dr. Taylor, and I are doing ours on teaching and learning at home for parents and children! Anyway, I hope you like them and make sure to check out the First Coast News story on ADAPT! Watch this group; they are going to do great things in the healthcare industry because they know how to help their patients by partnering with their animal partners. They are the best example of doing it ‘right’ for everyone concerned I have ever seen. See you on the flip side!

Your Pal,
Professor Eli