Evaluating the Effectiveness of a Pet-Facilitated Therapy Program for Incarcerated Female Offenders

Jane Balvanz, Kate Wickham Elementary School
Louis Veneziano, Southeast Missouri State University

A substantial body of research suggests that pet-facilitated therapy can result in numerous benefits for diverse clinical populations. Pet-facilitated therapy has proven to be effective with children, adults, and the elderly in terms of enhancing self-esteem and alleviating symptoms of anxiety and depression. A few studies have reported similar positive effects for juvenile and adult male offenders. This present study evaluated the short-term effectiveness of a pet-facilitated therapy program for incarcerated female offenders. Program participants were given the responsibility of caring for an animal from a local humane shelter, preparing it to be adopted as a pet. Using a Solomon Four-Group quasi-experimental design, the results indicated that program participation had positive effects on the self-esteem of the offenders, with concomitant decreases in anger, anxiety, and depression. The theoretical and practical implications of this study were discussed, framing them in terms of Reckless' Containment Theory and Hirschi's Social Control Theory. The authors conclude that pet-facilitated therapy holds great promise for fostering the development of prosocial attitudes and behaviors among offenders, and, during the current period of declining revenues, can easily be implemented at minimal expense.

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Updated 05/20/2006