Photo of students with therapy dog

Animal Assisted Therapy

Dr. Abel mentors students interested in Animal Assisted Therapy. The use of therapy and service animals in health care and educational settings is rapidly increasing, but research in this area is lacking. Dr. Abel has recently begun research to determine the effects of human-animal interaction on patients, students, health-care providers and trainers.

Current research projects include:

  • Assessment of the effects of service dog training on female offenders at the women’s correctional facility in Vandalia, Mo., and on male offenders at the men’s correctional facility in Pacific, Mo.
  • Evaluation of the effects of therapy dog interaction on student anxiety
  • Effect of therapy dogs as a complementary intervention during pediatric clinical occupational therapy sessions
  • Community outreach and implementation programs based on the Mutt-i-grees Curriculum, a social emotional learning program developed by Yale University and North Shore Animal League incorporating dogs to develop empathy and reduce bullying and aggression in Pre-K through grade 12

General Description of Student Activities

Students are expected to complete at least one hypothesis-driven project focusing on outcomes related to therapy or service animals. Students may analyze quantitative or qualitative data from ongoing projects including standardized assessments, training journals or behavioral observation. Most of the research will be completed at Women’s Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center (WERDCC) in Vandalia, Mo.; Missouri Eastern Correctional Center (MECC), Pacific, Mo.; community locations including schools, Paraquad, or in conjunction with Variety, the Children’s Charity; or the Program in Occupational Therapy building. Students may occasionally need to drive if their project involves observation of animal assisted therapy, assessment of trainers at WERDCC or MECC, or community outreach programs. Some studies may involve evening or weekend research. Students are expected to work on laboratory projects and attend weekly lab meetings.

Examples of Projects

  • Assessment of the psychosocial and occupational effects of service dog training on female or male offenders
  • Qualitative analysis of training journals of female offenders
  • Assessment of effects of therapy dogs or other relaxation interventions on student stress
  • Description and analysis of behaviors of therapy dogs, therapy dog handlers and patients during pediatric occupational therapy sessions
  • Case studies of the impact of service dog placement on persons with physical or psychological disabilities
  • Development of Mutt-i-grees programs in local schools and other children’s facilities


Regina Abel, PhD
Instructor in Occupational Therapy and Medicine

Phone: (314) 286-1649
Fax: (314) 286-1601

Ranked as the Number Three OT Program in the Nation

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We welcome inquiries from prospective students, potential collaborators, community partners, alumni and others who want to connect with us. Please complete the form below to begin the conversation.

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Schedule a Virtual Visit

Current, future and accepted applicants are encouraged to virtual visit. We also welcome people who are exploring career options and considering occupational therapy. Dr. Kathy Kniepmann, one of our faculty members, opens our virtual visit sessions with an informal presentation and discussion,  followed by a chat with a current student.

Upcoming VIRTUAL visit sessions*:

*At least two to three visit sessions are scheduled every month. All times are Central Standard Time (CST). Click here for more info.

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Call Dr. Kniepmann at (314) 286-1610
or Robin Hattori at (314) 286-1653