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A Pawfect Participant – New Study Says Therapy Dogs May Help Manage Emotions in Family Mediation

Nicole Wilmet, May 1st, 2018

A recent Harvard Negotiation Law Review paper written by David Paul, an attorney, mediator, and family law arbitrator in British Columbia, suggests that therapy dogs may benefit participants in family law mediation. As this article reports, the genesis behind David’s idea to use dogs in mediation first came to him twelve years ago when he brought his family dog into work with him. As David explains, while at work his dog would quietly sit in on family law mediations and he noticed that the dog had a calming effect on the mediating parties. Flash forward a decade later, while David was pursuing his Masters of Law degree in Dispute Resolution, he dove further into this subject by dedicating his thesis to studying therapy dogs and mediation after he realized that the use of therapy dogs had been studied in a wide variety of fields except for law.

David’s article, discusses how Animal-Assisted Intervention (using animals for therapeutic purposes) may be a useful practice to incorporate into family mediations as a means to deescalate emotions and facilitate effective communications. The article begins by cultivating research that details the physical and emotional health benefits of therapy animals. Benefits of therapy dogs include an increase in positive emotions, attention, concentration, relation, and motivation and a decrease in blood pressure, heart rate, emotional pain, stress, depression, anger, anxiety, and feelings of loneliness. Given the emotional benefits of therapy dogs, David advocates for using Canine-Assisted Mediation (CAM) in family law mediations, which often involve highly emotional and life-changing disputes.  David argues that including therapy dogs in mediation would provide mediators with a cost-effective, safe and non-verbal tool that mediators could add to their toolbox and use to manage parties’ emotions. The article also argues a variety of ways that CAM could meet the needs of family litigants including: making the mediation process less intimidating, enhancing the mood, increasing feelings of trust, relieving the parties’ emotional distress, and providing parties with social support. Finally, the article also provides guidelines for planning and implementing effective CAM.

Today, Paul is currently working on putting his research to practice and is having his puppy Charlie trained to become Canada’s first certified therapy dog in family law mediation.

      David Paul and his dog Charlie
      Image: Jenifer Norwell /CBC

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