Animal assisted therapists provide rehabilitative therapy for the elderly and persons with chronic illnesses. They use animals as part of the emotional and physical therapeutic process. Animal assisted therapists need a bachelor's degree in physical therapy, psychology, nursing, social work or education. Some positions require a master's degree or certification as an animal assistive therapy specialist, designated AAT.
Animal assisted therapy provides many benefits for patients. The Animal Behavior Institute states that animals encourage patients to connect on an emotional level, which reduces stress and anxiety and increases a positive sense of well-being. Moreover, animals increase patient motivation, which in turn has a positive effect on the therapeutic outcome.
Animal assisted therapists are included in the Bureau of Labor Statistics Recreational Therapists category. The average annual wage of recreational therapists as of May 2010 was $41,440, according to a report by the bureau. Recreational therapists in the lowest 10 percent of the pay scale earned $24,640 or less, while therapists in the top 10 percent earned more than $60,600. Recreational therapists in the middle 50 percent earned between $30,910 and $50,700. The median per-hour income for recreational therapists was $18.95 in 2010 and the average per-hour rate was $19.92.
The bureau reported that the top five industries for the occupation in terms of highest levels of employment in 2010 were nursing care facilities, medical and surgical hospitals, psychiatric and substance abuse hospitals, state governments, and elderly care facilities. Therapists working in medical and surgical hospitals earned the highest average wages of $45,650, while those working in nursing care facilities earned the lowest average wages of $35,010. Recreational therapists working in the other top five industries, by pay, earned between $43,020 and $36,400.
Recreational therapists in seven states earned average annual salaries between $46,110 and $57,560. The five top-paying states for recreational therapists in 2010 were the District of Columbia, California, Washington, Connecticut and Oregon. The average hourly wage for recreational therapists was $27.67 per hour in the District of Columbia, $27.41 in California, $24.04 in Washington state, $23.30 in Connecticut, and $23.28 in Oregon.
Salaries for animal assisted therapists differ by city. As of September 2011, the average annual salary was $28,000 for therapists working in San Francisco, California, and $23,000 for therapists in Hollywood, California, according to Simply Hired Inc. Animal assistive therapists working in Phoenix, Arizona, in Cincinnati, Ohio, and in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, earned $20,000 a year on average, while therapists working in Houston and Dallas, Texas, earned an average annual salary of $21,000.