Motivation and Animal Therapy: Meet Eileen Bona and her work at Dreamcatcher
The idea behind Dreamcatcher began as a simple wish to provide a means of communication for people struggling with brain impairments and mental health issues to express themselves effectively. Eileen Bona, the founder of Dreamcatcher, sat down for an interview to further explain the inspiration for Dreamcatcher and the current work they have going on.
Dreamcatcher is a psychological practice located in Alberta, Canada. It is located on a ranch out in the country and has been in operation for ten years. It has seen rapid expansion in the last three years with an increase to seven therapists (from one). When Dreamcatcher first opened, there was limited available information on equine therapy, so Ms. Bona started with therapeutic riding and developed her practice from there. They primarily work with youth, offering programs in animal assisted therapies and equine facilitated counseling. They utilize eleven different species of animals in their therapy sessions catering to a diverse set of needs. Many of the animals they work with were once homeless or ill and have since been rehabilitated. Seeing them at work with the clients is incredible because the animals were given a second chance and are making a difference in children’s lives.
Furthermore, Dreamcatcher also has a mobile program that takes animals on the road to senior homes and homeless shelters. Ms. Bona shared they treat approximately 100 people every week. They also have a training facility for both animals and therapists.
Since opening Dreamcatcher, Ms. Bona has continued to be surprised by the interactions observed between humans and animals. Ms. Bona related an incident where a child became aggressive while visiting Dreamcatcher. It was a volatile situation that was interrupted when the assisting therapy animal moved between the child and therapist. The animal, in that moment, changed the situation and communicated a message to the child that the therapist was unable to do. Animals help therapeutically by creating a level of trust with people and often, from this trust, a bond with both the animal and therapist can be formed. They have a way of bringing out an individual’s true colors of character.
However, Ms. Bona also shared some of the current difficulties and challenges facing her practice and others. The main issue is that there are no standards of practice on animal therapy in Canada, and animal assisted therapy is not acknowledged as a therapy practice. Because of that, Ms. Bona and others have adopted practices from other countries and are working to gain national recognition for the work they do. Funding, primarily, has proven difficult because animal assisted therapy is not a recognized therapy practice and therefore cannot be a listed as a therapy when asking for monetary support. Yet despite the lack of recognition for animal assisted therapies, Dreamcatcher’s therapists are all registered psychologists and clinical social workers, and have continued to expand due to the need for the work they do.
Ms. Bona is first to admit that sometimes there is an overload of work. There are training needs, therapist needs, client needs and animal needs, as well as the needs of community outreach programs. However, despite all that, or maybe because of it, Ms. Bona’s experience has been amazing and rewarding. She began with an idea of wanting to create something motivating. She saw the potential in the bond formed between humans and animals and believed it could help others, and so it has.
The most rewarding aspect of her work has been helping those that no one has been able to help before. Adults and youth who were resistant to therapy and difficult to reach, opened up around animals and became excited to come back again. Both human and animals are working together to get the help they need. Dreamcatcher is currently working toward developing certifications for animal assisted therapies for both therapists and animals. They have been approached by universities and have worked to create courses and certificate programs in order to increase the credibility of animal assisted therapy in Canada. They are developing consistent training practices, so the work happening at Dreamcatcher can be duplicated elsewhere and address the growing need. In the future, Ms. Bona hopes to have researchers come to Dreamcatcher and conduct academic research on the human-animal bond.