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Motivations for volunteering in Animal Assisted Therapy

Researcher: Jan Armstrong

Supervisor: Dr Graeme Ditchburn

Date: Dec 2010

The purpose of this research was to obtain a clearer understanding of the unique characteristics and motivations of people who volunteer in AAT/AAA, particularly for Animal Companions a not-for-profit organisation in Perth, Western Australia. An analysis of 44 volunteers working for Animal Companions revealed that they are predominantly similar to other types of volunteers in the literature; middle-aged, female, employed (Freeman, 1997; Bussell & Forbes, 2002), more internal on the I-E scale (Beckman, 1972; Benson, Dehority, Garman, Hanson, Hochschwender, Lebold, Rohr & Sullivan, 1980; Allen & Rushton, 1983) high in self-esteem (Thoits & Hewitt, 2001), and high in self-efficacy and emotional stability (Allen & Rushton, 1983). They also engaged in volunteer activity on an average of 7 years over their lifetime. The prime motivation for volunteering in AAT/AAA was based on a Values function, followed by an Understanding function. Both were associated with intentions to volunteer into the future. A thematic analysis revealed 4 themes; altruism, reciprocity, animal welfare and organisational context. The most frequently expressed reason for joining Animal Companions was for altruistic reasons, or for what Adams (1980) calls a ‘higher motive’ as many volunteers were concerned with the act of giving or sharing. However, a self-oriented motive (Adams, 1980) was also evident as reciprocal benefits were frequently stated with many volunteers indicating they got something back in return. The social-adjustive motive was not supported but there was evidence of free will. Suggestions for recruitment based on these findings were presented, particularly those that might appeal to the baby boomer generation.