School of Nursing

Human Health Building, Room 3027
433 Meadow Brook Road
Rochester, MI 48309-4452
(location map)
(248) 370-4253
M-F 8 a.m.-5 p.m. closed daily 12 p.m.-1 p.m.

Faculty and staff

Amy Johnson, MAT, MA, LPC, TLS, CPDT-KA
(248) 364-8704

Jennifer Cepnick, MPA
Program Coordinator
(248) 370-3177

Cindy Sifonis, Ph.D. (Module 2)
Marilyn Childers, MSN (Module 3) 

Kim Cardeccia (Module 4)

Animal Assisted Therapy

The Center for Human Animal Interventions (CHAI) is located in the School of Nursing and runs in conjunction with Professional and Continuing Education (PACE). Keeping with the main objectives of the Center, the center will become the primary resource for all things related to the Human Animal Bond and Animal Assisted Interventions and will contribute to research and literature within the area of study. A key component to this program is the implementation and advancement of ethical standards and competencies to be used as an industry standard by both professionals and volunteers in the field of HAB and AAI.

"To promote the thoughtful and ethical practice of animal assisted interventions by focusing on practitioner competency, quality client care and optimal animal welfare."  

Goals for the Center include:
  • Providing a thorough understanding of the theories and intentionality used in the practice of AAI
  • Providing a thorough understanding of the various populations that benefit from AAI and the types of animals that make the best fit
  • Determine what animals make the best therapy animals and how to certify one’s animal
  • Add to the base of literature in order to advance the field
  • Expand and deepen learning and related academic initiatives and scholarship at OU
  • Disseminate ethical standards and benchmarks in the industry as determined in collaboration with other experts in the field
  • To have courses taught by experienced faculty in a variety of disciplines
  • Have the ability to offer CEUs in a variety of disciplines
  • Encourage inter-professional collaborations on campus, in the community, around the country and around the world

Our advisory committee is comprised of content experts and will help make this mission a reality.

To register your dog as a therapy dog, visit Therapy Dogs International or Pet Partners.

For Pet Partners, go to calendar of events. To sign up for a spot you need to start the registration process by creating a log in to the Volunteer Center .

For information on Standards of Practice for Animal Assisted Interventions, see Animal Assisted Interventions International Standards of Practice
Animal assisted interventions offers a positive behavioral support intervention  or young people with severe emotional or behavioral problems as well as provides emotional, psychological and physiological support for the critically ill, elderly, physically impaired and more. The difference you will make in the lives of others will be extremely rewarding. Animal assisted therapy has also been effective in nursing homes, counseling centers and hospitals. A diverse range of people can apply animal assisted therapy to their professional careers, including: nurses, teachers, counselors, physical therapists and sociologists. 

Those interested in enrolling should complete an admission application. Please note, registration for the 2018-2019 academic year is open until September 4, 2018 (first day of class). For questions contact Amy Johnson at

Overview of Oakland's Program
Oakland University’s Animal Assisted Therapy Certificate program addresses several health and social issues, including an increased need for alternative, innovative and holistic practices.

Taught by multidisciplinary professionals, Oakland’s animal assisted therapy program helps fulfill the need for alternative, innovative and holistic health care practices. In addition, animal assisted therapy addresses several social issues, such as:
  • providing educational, therapeutic and health benefits for at-risk children and adolescents, the elderly and other special-needs populations
  • helping patients in nursing homes, counseling centers and hospitals
Theories behind AAT:
There are a variety of theories that can be used. This is an  article that was presented at the American Counseling Association Conference in New Orleans in 2011 on incorporating theories into practice.

What is the difference between Animal Assisted Therapy and Animal Assisted Activities?
Watch this 5 minute presentation to find out

What is AAT certification?
AAT Certificate Program focuses on the differences between Animal Assisted Activities and Animal Assisted Therapy and how to setup a program to achieve the outcomes you'd like to see within the population with which you are working. This program is ideal for people in service professions (teachers, nurses, therapists,occupational therapists, etc.) who want to add AAT to their skill set and introduce either their own animals or other animals or people who want to conduct AAT, start a non profit or become a more credible volunteer.

What types of animals can be used in AAT? 
Cats, dogs, horses, rabbits, hamsters,etc. This program will help you identify what animals/pets would make safe, reliable therapy animals.

100% online:
The program is offered completely online. It runs in a consecutive format. There are deadlines and weekly due dates for assignments, but you can do them and post at your discretion. Most students say that the work is not overwhelming and many work full time jobs or take full time classes along with this program. We offer a capstone project which includes the writing of a full proposal/business-type plan rather than an internship. At the end, you will receive a professional development certificate from Oakland University.

Is the program accredited?
There is no national accrediting body for AAT, but having a certificate will make you more credible. We want to demonstrate how to incorporate AAT into any service field or type of service organization and you will have the chance to create by the end of the courses a plan specific to your needs that can be presented to a supervisor or potential facility for approval to add AAT to the location of your choice. This program will help establish standards and competencies for your work.

Examples of Goals for AAT:
The goal we want to achieve with each person that enters our program is to help them reach their own goals for their AAT programs.

AAT can assist with these goals and changes:
  • Physical Changes ( disabilities, body posture, etc.)
  • Cognitive Changes (Learning, etc.)
  • Emotional Changes (Feeling, Recognizing, etc.)
  • Physiological changes (Heart rate, etc.)
  • Behavioral Changes (Altering behaviors)
Applying for this program at Oakland University will benefit you by reaching for your goals and creating new opportunities. 

What to expect when being taught in this program:
  • Empathy
  • Perspective taking
  • Self-esteem
  • Self-efficacy 
  • Attachment
  • Sense of purpose
  • Patience
  • And many other ways.
Understanding the nature and power of the bond allows us to harness it in powerful ways.

What you'll learn: 
Oakland University’s academic approach to animal therapy will help you develop an overall understanding of the human animal bond and healing implications with vulnerable populations. You’ll learn:
  • How to incorporate animal assisted therapy in current practices. 
  • How animal assisted research applies to real-life applications
  • What the difference is between animal assisted therapy and pet therapy.
  • How to gain a theoretical framework for animal assisted therapy interventions how to start your own non-profit organization
  • Where to volunteer.
  • We are using this in those simplest of terms- a relationship that provides a sense of safety and reduces anxiety or stress
  • None of these are uniquely human (insel, 1997)- Social dynamics between people and pets have qualities similar to that of human social relationships. 
* AAT was created in 2007 for the demand people had for the program. A grant from the president’s office allowed the program to accept students from all over the world. This program is great for anyone who wants to accept AAT into their work with starting non-profit groups or become a better volunteer for some of these groups. This is an easy program completely online based with 5 Modules throughout a one year span. This online course will give you well-rounded training for your future involvement with AAT. The best part is that the workload is manageable and will teach you great skills involving Animal Assisted Therapy. The workload is at your own pace to work with your schedule of time. 


The program includes five consecutive 5-week modules in the following areas:

Module 1- Intro to AAT 
Includes readings on the literature and the learning on what it takes to get started with AAT.

Module 2- Psychology of AAT
Includes learning theories and behavior modification by applying this to AAT.

Module 3- Special Populations 
Includes a closer look at vulnerable populations and how AAT will fit in with the populations. 

Module 4- Animal Welfare in AAT 
Includes learning if the animal can work for AAT, how to certify your pet, what a temperament assessment is and the provisions needed for using animals. 

Module 5- Capstone 
Includes writing a final paper on introduction, needs assessment, methodology, Budget/resources, similar programs, and outcomes.

Module 6 - (optional) Hands On Practicum 

How to Register/Cost
Complete the online  Admission Application

Once you hear back from the committee, you can register at 

Courses are $499 per course (both in/out of state; in/out of country) x 5 courses plus the costs of books (available on Amazon). Payment of $499 is due prior to the start of each course. Full price for the program is $2,495. PAYMENT PLANS ARE AVAILABLE!  Contact Jennifer Cepnick at 

Since this is considered professional development/continuing education, students do not have to apply to Oakland University to enter the program. Registration begins in July/August through  Professional and Continuing EducationStep by step instructions for registration are available. 

Graduate Testimonial
"As a practitioner of Animal Assisted Therapy (mental health therapy dog) for more than 7 years, I have found the AAT Certification Program at Oakland University to be the foundation that is essential for the professional use of this methodology.  The knowledge and skill sets related to the professional utilization of AAT are identified and then the student's development is  guided and measured every step of the way while tailored to the particular needs of each participant."  
—  John W. Streeter, MA, MAC, NCC, LPC

Hi, Amy – I thought you’d enjoy hearing the latest news about the program we launched here last summer with the Deer’s Head Hospital recreation therapy staff based on my OU AAT program cornerstone project.  The summer 2013 pilot program, managed by Shelli Beers of the staff, assisted by a summer intern, Haley Naugle, went very well and was deemed such a success that the clinical director encouraged  the RT staff to make it a permanent part of their program, baked into care plans, regularly scheduled, all the bells and whistles.  

Then, later in the fall, Susan Lynch, a professor of therapeutic recreation at Longwood University, who had taught Shelli, encouraged Shelli to submit a seminar proposal on our program in response to the call for papers of the Mideast Symposium on Therapeutic Recreation (MESTR) for its annual conference in Ocean City, MD (nearby for us), which took place earlier this week.  Our proposal was accepted back in February, and we began preparing a 90-minute presentation on our program.  (By the way, in the early going, I changed the name of the program to “TRAC” (Therapeutic Recreation Assisted by Canines) form my original “DART,” because people around here, next to the Delaware state line, associate DART with the Delaware public transportation system, which goes by that name!  Also, I learned that “therapeutic recreation” is the preferred term among many in this field.)

At some point, as we were awaiting word on whether our seminar proposal would be accepted, I was  reviewing the guidelines posted on the MESTR website and noticed that the organization also gives an annual award for “Best New Program of the Year.”  I encouraged Shelli to ask their clinical director to nominate TRAC, and that nomination was submitted in time for consideration.

We gave our seminar at MESTR in Ocean City last Sunday afternoon, just after the keynote address.  It was one of several “break-out” offerings in that time slot (all for CEU credit, by the way), but our conference room was packed – probably 50-60 attendees.  Shelli introduced the program, then Murphy (my older Berner) and I addressed the group for about 40 minutes.  Our job was to present how we got into AAA/AAT, how we formed our group, the Wicomico Wagsters, the AAA/AAT distinction, how we moved from AAA to AAT through my work in the OU certificate program, the pilot program proposal and the collaborative work we entered into with the Deer’s Head RT group to test and implement TRAC.  Then Haley went into the details of the program.  We wrapped up with Murphy assisting in demonstrations and generally entertaining a little, some Q & A, etc.  We displayed pages and slideshows from the Wagsters website, also a product of my OU AAT program last year, to expand our presentation to include discussion of other special needs populations that can be effectively served through AAT.  Shelli also utilized a very attractive power point program with photos from TRAC sessions and related content.

The attendees submitted evaluations that were overwhelmingly positive, we received many gracious compliments at the end of the seminar, Murphy posed with participants for numerous snapshots, and we had a great time.  For the icing on the cake, at the closing ceremony  for the conference yesterday, “TRAC at Deer’s Head Hospital” was awarded “Best New Program of the Year.”  This is a high honor for Shelli and her team, and, I think, a tribute to you, Amy, and the OU AAT certificate program for providing me with so much knowledge and encouragement last year.  I’m attaching a copy of the MESTR 2014 program schedule, listing our TRAC seminar (Sunday, 3:45-5:15), Shelli’s brief outline for our presentation, a set of annotated references based on my paper, which we distributed to attendees, a photo of our “Best New Program” certificate, and an “autographed” Wagsters postcard featuring Murphy and Zeke, which we also gave to attendees.  Also, the Wagsters website includes a page on Deer’s Head where you can find a slideshow I prepared on “TRAC” with “action shots” form our sessions. One of the Deer’s Head staffers in the audience took some pictures that I haven’t seen yet, but there may be some good ones for use in a new slideshow on the seminar, which I may being posting soon.

 Best regards,



Staying current on trends, techniques and research is critical in ensuring optimal welfare of the practitioner, animal and client. These short, online courses will provide the necessary information to practitioners or those considering entering the field of Animal Assisted Interventions.

This one-hour course is facilitated by Ann Griffin, Esq. who is the Director of Advocacy for the Michigan Humane Society and Chair of the Animal Law Section of the State of Michigan Bar. This course will highlight the laws pertaining to service animals, therapy animals and emotional support animals as well as potential risks including dog bites. A certificate of completion is available upon successful passing of the quiz. 

Register now

Search for Animal Law (CEOD 20100). 

February 1 and 2, 2019 

Improving Canine Communication in Animal Assisted Interventions:

Using Mindfulness and Dog as a Second Language to Strengthen Our Relationships

With Patricia McConnell, Melissa Winkle and Leigh Atherton

February 1-2, 2019
8:30-4:30 p
Room EC 254, Oakland University

The human and dog relationship can be so strong, yet the miscommunication between species is so prevalent. This language (and behavior) barrier can harm the dog and relationship unintentionally. For those who work with dogs, this conference will focus on how learning to speak "dog" can improve the relationships between humans and canine partners.Additionally, this conference, with an emphasis on self-awareness and mindfulness in the human animal bond, is excellent for those who practice or are interested in Animal Assisted Interventions.

Friday, Feb 1

AM Session - Leigh Atherton, Mindfulness and AAIs

PM Session - Patricia McConnell, Improved Canine Communication

Saturday, Feb 2

All day - Melissa Winkle​, Best Practices in Animal Assisted Interventions​: Techniques for humans and dogs

 $139 for Friday

$139 for Saturday

$249 for Friday and Saturday  

Early bird rate $109, both days $200

 Register now

CEs available: CPDT, Occupational Therapy
CEs pending: NBCC, Social Work (MI), SCHECHS


Check out photos from this event!
[CLOSED] June 23, 2017

Equine Assisted Psychotherapy with Kim Cardeccia
Hidden Promises Ranch in Fenton, MI
This workshop is for counselors and social workers interested in learning  how to incorporate equine assisted psychotherapy into their repertoire.  
Media and
American Psychological Association Monitor (May 2017)
"Allies, Sidekicks and Pals" 
Oakland's AAT-C Program and Teacher's Pet 
Chai Blog
Read the latest blog from the Center for Human Animal Interventions

A rticles and books from our Advisory Committee

TV Interview
Amy Johnson interview on Bloomfield Cable

For Professional Continuing Educator Award (2015)

Adelle F. Robertson Continuing Professional Educator Award (2016)

Animal Welfare in Animal Assisted Therapy Lecture (Oakland Post)

Human Animal Interventions Bulletin (APA) 2016

VISTAS (American Counseling Association) 2016

Are you interested in networking with other AAI professionals? The following are organizations that provide research and education within the field.

Animal Assisted Interventions International
Pet Partners

International Association of Anthrozoology

International Association of Human-Animal Interaction Organizations

Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI)

Animals and Society Institute

American Psychological Association HAI, Div 17, Sect 13
Free membership

American Counseling Association Interest Network - Human Animal Interventions in Counseling