Animal- assisted interventions (AAI) became more generalized in health care settings and their development in Europe is increasing. In France, the practice has grown in the absence of official recognition and regulation. In this context, we aim to identify the main characteristics of the French practice of AAI that can influence the establishment of a local regulation. Second, we aim to question the relevance of the model proposed by the International Association of Human- Animal Interaction Organizations (IAHAIO) distinguishing animal- assisted therapies (AAT) and (AAA) animal- assisted activities from the French practice of AAI. We interviewed 111 French handlers in AAI that work with at least one dog through an online questionnaire about their professional backgrounds and the main features of their practices of AAI (characteristics, beneficiaries, and animals). Our results indicated that AAI are at an important moment of expansion and are currently under autonomous regulation. Practices and handlers’ backgrounds are heterogeneous, as well as training centers in AAI, which reflect the fragmentation of the field. This snapshot of the French practice of AAI underlined that regulations should focus first on a mandatory training, a common standard for each training center, and specific guidelines for each pathology and animal species involved. In addition, the influence of handlers’ backgrounds on the type of AAI they practice must be taken into account in regulations. As animals are central in AAI, regulations should focus on their welfare and the certification of dogs to ensure both their safety and the safety of beneficiaries during sessions. Finally, the initial training in the medico- social field seems to influence the practices. Therefore, the common model distinguishing AAT and AAA could be a basis to regulate AAI in France, as in Italy. Indeed, our results underlined that a first categorization between AAI as a professional specialization or an independent profession could be useful. Still, whatever the type of practices, animal and beneficiary welfare should be at the center of regulations in a One Health perspective. As a result, the French government needs to support AAI development such as in other European countries (Sweden, Austria, and Italy) and should collaborate with handlers, organizations, health care facilities, animal professions, and scientists.
|Publication Title||People and Animals: The International Journal of Research and Practice|
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