Dr. Beth Macauley, UA assistant professor of communicative disorders, has a black, six-year old Newfoundland retriever mix as a research assistant.
Macauley’s “assistant,” Gabriel, is used in animal-assisted therapy for people who come to the University’s Speech and Hearing Center for therapy — from preschool students to stroke patients. Macauley, who has conducted research in this field since 1998, is the only doctorallevel speech pathologist in the country doing animal-assisted research.
“You give me a client, and I can find a way to use or adapt the dog with that treatment,” Macauley said.
Macauley said she can use Gabriel, a dog who is certified by the Delta Society, during therapy sessions as an incentive for her clients to complete tasks or as an integral component of each lesson. “For example, I can ask my client to give the dog commands using specific sentence structures or sounds,” she said. Macauley said the clients are more attentive, more vocal and have more fun with the dog. “Anytime you can make the therapy experience more fun, you’re going to get better results,” she said.
Her research goal is to show the benefits of animal-assisted therapy and to get more therapists involved. She measures Gabriel’s effectiveness by comparing how clients perform with and without him — usually people perform better when Gabriel is involved, she said. Before coming to UA, Macauley also used horses during therapy sessions. She hopes to make arrangements for equine-assisted therapy soon.