Skip to main content

Cornell Companions - Abstract


A Thesis Presented to
the Faculty of the Department of Animal Science
in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for a
Bachelors Degree with Distinction of Research

Kathryn Marie Conniff
Cornell University, 2003


This study was an attempt to assess the impact of an ongoing pet visitation program on the behavior and affect of adjudicated female adolescents at a medium secure residential facility over an 8-week period. To our knowledge, this study is the first controlled randomized blinded trial with a pretest-posttest design aimed at determining whether unstructured Animal-Assisted Activities (AAA) have a positive impact on this unique population of adolescents. Thirteen residents were randomized to the treatment group, which participated in the pet visitation program; 10 residents were randomized to the control group, which did not participate in the program but was otherwise comparable to the treatment group. The program entailed weekly 1-hour sessions during which participants were involved in activities such as grooming the animals, giving commands, playing fetch, and talking to the animalshandlers. To assess whether the program had any effects on participants' behavior and affect, a qualitative survey designed by the researchers plus two quantitative instruments, the Youth Self-Report for Ages 11-18 (YSR) and the Resident Behavior Assessment (RBA), were administered to the subjects both prior to the pet visitation program and following its completion. Qualitative results indicate that the subjects enjoyed and benefited affectively and behaviorally from the pet visitation program. Results from the two quantitative measures, however, were not as straightforward; in fact, they were contradictory. While the RBA demonstrated a significant improvement in behavior, the YSR showed the opposite: a significant decline in behavioral and affective functioning. These findings were true for both the treatment and control groups, indicating that the pet visitation program did not have any differential effects on the treatment group versus the control group. Multiple limitations (e.g., small sample size, short study duration, high attrition rate, low frequency of visits, and/or low volunteer attendance) could have prevented the pet visitation program from having a significant impact on the participants' behavior and affect.

Share this: