Honors Theses and Capstones

Date of Award

Spring 2014

Project Type

Senior Honors Thesis

College or School



Occupational Therapy

Program or Major

Occupational Therapy

Degree Name

Bachelor of Science

First Advisor

Kerryellen Vroman


Animal-assisted therapy is a complimentary therapy utilized in health care to provide goal-directed therapy using dogs. The purpose of this study was to understand what motivates individuals to being animal-assisted volunteering and rewards that encourage and sustain animal-assisted volunteering. This mixed methods study employed quantitative methods, a demographic questionnaire and the Volunteer Motivation Index (VMI), which ranks motives most important to animal-assisted volunteers (N=15) and qualitative methods, a semi-structured interview (N=13). The participants ranked Values most important as a motive on the VMI. Social related variables were ranked low. Content analysis of the interviews yielded five themes: No Ordinary Dog, The Team, The Volunteer, Motives, and Rewards. Animal-assisted therapy volunteers fall into a gray area in the altruistic-egotistic duality interpretation of volunteerism. Similar to volunteers in other areas they are motivated by altruism. However, they are not driven by egotistical needs such as social engagement or the gratitude of the recipient. Their rewards appear to be individually derived from the relationship with their dog. The participants expressed a strong sense pride verging on perceiving animal-assisted volunteerism as elite. This stance is consistent with the construct of “pure” volunteerism” although this volunteering does not meet the criteria of pure volunteerism. Furthermore, animal-assisted therapists believe animal-assisted therapy should become a paid profession, a mindset that is much different from other volunteers. By understanding what motivates animal-assisted therapists to volunteer, healthcare organizations will be better able to support their continued participation and volunteer effort.