Promoting Health and Wellness with the Human-Animal Bond: An Interview with Dr. Sven-G Hultman
Hailing all the way from Sweden, Dr. Sven-G Hultman was kind enough to grant me an interview about his work with the human-animal bond and his organization, the Swedish Caredog School.
How it Started
Hultman has always had a connection to nature. He received his Ph.D. in Forest Recreation from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and a Master of Forestry from the School of Forestry and Environmental Sciences at Yale University. He worked with research for many years and as manager of a foundation that owns recreation and conservation areas, hiking trails, runs projects and more. One main focus has been on the connection between health and nature. He explains, “Forest recreation has a lot to do with health. It is healthy to get fresh air and physical activity. In connection with this I learned a lot about the nature and health connection.” After seeing the increase in unhealthiness in Swedish society during the 90’s, both physical and psychological, he knew that it was important to keep pursuing the study of nature and wellness.
Hultman was first introduced to the human-animal bond in the 1997 when he met his wife-to-be, Ingeborg Höök. At the time, she worked as a nurse in nursing homes and psychiatric wards and often brought her dogs to work. She noticed the effect the dogs had on the patients and it inspired them both to delve deeper into the study of the human-animal bond. In 2006 they made their way to the U.S. where they spent five weeks on the west coast. During that time they met many groups working with the human-animal bond which inspired them to further their work.
Hultman stated, “That’s how it started, my interest in nature and health and my wife’s interest in animals and health. Together we had the necessary prerequisites.” With their knowledge and experience in nature recreation and the medical/care sector, they began creating a training model for dog-handler teams to assist in therapy and developed the word and concept of “Caredog.”
Swedish Caredog School
The Swedish Caredog School provides training to therapy dog-handler teams to conduct Animal Assisted Therapy. A Caredog is defined as a ”social service dog which works in a team with its handler to promote the wellbeing of persons with disabilities and to stimulate the exercise of physical, psychological, social, emotional and cognitive functions.” These dog-handler teams are paid employees of care institutions, including nursing homes, hospitals, and rehabilitation centers. Handlers must have health or care sector education and experience to be a part of a Caredog team. The treatments are prescribed by licensed staff.
One of the biggest accomplishments for the organization is the creation of a National Swedish Standard for training Caredog Teams. After a tedious standardization process, the result provided ”requirements for training of Caredog teams within home care for elderly, dementia care and rehabilitation for adults after acquired brain injury” (SS 8760000:2013, www.sis.se). This kind of standard, which is done within the international standardization system (cf ISO on the international level or ANSI in the USA), might be the first in the world in this sector. Hultman also mentioned that another group is working on the national level to make standards for the practice of using Caredog teams.
Hultman emphasized the significance of animal assisted therapy as a non-medical treatment option. He further stresses the importance of more research on the effects and how to improve the training and practice. He explained, “This should increase the recognition of non-medical treatments. But these situations are difficult to study. It is not as easy as comparing a medical pill to a sugar pill.”
Another activity Sven-G Hultman and his wife are proud of having achieved is being active in getting “Animal Assisted Intervention International” off the ground at a conference in Belgium last November. Also, they have signed a five-year letter of intent with a major university in South Korea, which wants to introduce the Caredog Model.
Hultman also discussed other exciting new projects that are coming in the near future. One such project is a new program that uses dogs as motivation for kids suffering from obesity. The program will involve a week-long course for young people who will exercise and play with dogs in a specially designed play area. The Caredog School also is in collaboration with a neighboring bed and breakfast that will house the children and their families and also give lessons in healthy eating and cooking practices from a trained chef.
Another project the Swedish Caredog School has set to start within the year will be working more with hospice. They currently have a couple of teams working in hospice and are pleased with the results. Hultman believes that the teams working in hospice situations help the patients, the staff, and the families through this hard time.