"The joy of play" If you can induce play between children and dogs, you can bring joyfulness and growth

We want to offer a safe and inspiring environment where playful interactions between children in need and dogs provide joy and development

Photo of Eva Lambrecht
11 28

Written by

I confirm that I am fully aware of the eligibility criteria and terms of the Purina BetterwithPets Prize and, based on its description, I am eligible to apply:

  • Yes, I’m eligible
  • Yes, I’m 18 years old or older

Should you be successful, please confirm your availability to attend:

  • Additional Skype interview(s) during the week of March 16-20th 2020
  • The Purina BetterwithPets Forum in Paris, on 3-4th of June 2020

Initiative's representative name

Eva Lambrecht (Sirius Therapie voor Mens en Dier VZW)

Initiative's representative date of birth


Initiative's representative gender

  • Woman

Headquarters location: country

  • Belgium

Headquarters location: city


Where are you making a difference?

We welcome children from our neighbourhood and greater distance from surrounding cities like Brussels-Leuven-, ... The students we reach with our course for professional social workers to start to involve dogs in their work are more widely spread across Flanders and even the Netherlands.

Website or social media url(s)

https://www.siriustherapie.be https://www.facebook.com/siriustherapie/

Date Started


Focus Areas

  • Fostering emotional intelligence and behavioural competences
  • Enhance physical activity and wellness
  • combine human-welfare and animal-welfare in therapy

What is your current yearly budget for the initiative? If you are an idea stage, what early budget you would need to kick-off and run operations in your first year?

  • €10k - €50k

Organisation Type

  • nonprofit/NGO: an organisation that uses its resources to achieve a purpose outside of creating profit

1. Founding story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that led the founder(s) to get started or the story of how you saw the potential for this project to succeed.

After years of work as a therapist, i found myself becoming demotivated. Some people you can't help by talking. Because they don't want to talk, because it's not what they need, because they already talked too much, because sometimes everything is said and it's not enough. I met a boy. Since weeks he refused to talk to anybody. But he loved dogs. We started sessions outside and I took my dog. We made a agreement that I did not expect him to talk since dogs can understand without words. The dog asked him to play and he understood this universal pure language! At first they just ran around, but then discovered real nice games. After a few sesions i was allowed to join the game and that was more precious than 10000 words...start of a therapy!

2. The problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

Some children and young people have tried a lot of therapies.They feel misunderstood, tired of speaking or just do not know where to start.We want to reach out to those children who are not being helped with regular therapies.They are not motivated to engage or tried but did not make connection. Some of them are depressed, were confronted with loss, social problems, suffer from fear of failure or other fears.They all have a warm heart for dogs.

3. Your solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

Contact with a dog is safe and simple and provide basic things as being accepted, social rules, being important and valuable. You do not have to tell a dog your story to know he understands. It gives pleasure to see dogs play, and through playful interventions you can improve development and psychosocial health by learning social rules, joy, freedom and physical relaxation. You can practise real-life skills in a non-threatening way in contact, and increase mental resilience. The professional therapist is the one who brings in the good climate for emotional safety and makes sure there is a good match with the dog. He uses the interactions between dog and child necessary for clients to tackle their difficult emotions and problems in therapy. Sometimes they join the game, or help to develop the game. After moments of play during relaxation, they can give feedback on what they experienced. The dog can function as a mirror to oneself and it is easier if somebody helps you to look at it. The therapy dogs are pet-dogs trained in our center and known very well by the therapist. They are chosen because of their character and background. Often we use refuge dogs because of their history.

4. Innovation: How are you innovating or using unique approaches to solve the problem?

Animal assisted therapy is starting to gain importance.Dogs are already used in settings like eldery-homes.With children however a lot of possibilities in playtherapy still needs to be discovered.We want this therapy to be of equal value next to therapies with talking, music, dance, sports,...A lot of research was done on Animal Assited Play Therapy by R Van FLeet and Tracie Faa Thompson, and M Bekoff did a lot of investigation about the strengh and importance of play in and within animals. We want to improve our therapy by using a natural/Ecological environment.Children make contact with nature,and dogs feels at home as well.Natural elements inspire children and animals there fantasy and make therapy something nice and low-threshold.

5. How does your project harness the pet-human bond to help people develop important social competencies (For example: emotional intelligence, collaboration, empathy, resilience, inclusivity) and overcome serious societal issues (for example: violence, abuse, trauma, isolation, abandonment)?

Through play you can create a safe setting for self-exploration, self-acceptance, learning, and skill attainment. Using dogs in play, you can reach out to children who have special needs. Children with a wide range of psychological and behavioral problems seem to respond positively to animals. The bond they experience with the dog makes them motivated to join the therapy, they feel happy when the dog welcomes them, and feel special to be accepted by their 'friend'. Even when they do not like to talk... Playing is fun, but sometimes not easy. Children needs to understand the nature of the dog to develop nice games. They have to adjust themselfs and learn how to be a nice play-mate while having fun themselfs. If you always want to win the game or start bullying, do not take into account that dogs are smaller than you and are build in another way and have other interests, the dog will leave the game... After playing you can enjoy the relaxation and experience to share quiet moments in contact with a living creature. Those things may be naturally, but are rare and healing moments for children suffering from severe trauma.

6. Impact: how has your project made a difference so far in terms of both business outputs and social impact? How do you plan on measuring progress?

At first we reached out for AAT in eldery homes, or care centers for the disabled. Over the years however we experienced the need of therapy for children who did not fit in regular therapies. Young children (age 6 year) and teenagers wanted a dog as a co-therapist because they believed the dog could help them in a way people could not. We changed the way we train and select the dogs, and adjusted the environment to elicit play (using little hills, trees, sand, grass,...). We started working with 1 therapist, and now have one more working freelance. Clients find their way to our center via other therapists, schoolscenters, or doctors who knows our work. We see about 8 children for individual play-sessions every week besides our education-work and our other therapies most of them for long-term therapies. It keeps them strong enough to prevent to give up school or need hospitalisation.

7. Growth strategies: what are your main strategies for scaling your impact?

3 years ago we started to educate other social workers to use dogs in helping people in a professional way. www.odisee.be/nl/DAI We educate on several types of AAT, and our play-therapy with dogs. So far we educated 58 students who all work professionally and started using dogs to assist them in their social work. We are convinced that great work needs good education. We have a dream that once our 'real' playground is ready and in use, it should be an inviting front for our work with our label. It should inspire other therapists and put our therapy as equal value next to other therapies.

8. Creating shared value: How does your initiative create value for different stakeholders?

Through our therapy and education we want to make people aware of the importance of 'non-regular' but professional work with dogs and children.Often it is still not recognised by doctors as a valuable way of reaching out to children in need.Our therapy did make a crucial difference in the lives of several children so far and we believe it can be so many more.Our work is unique because of our method working through play, our care for the dogs, and in the way we involve friends, family and even the school in our therapies .A lot of children come because they do not like talking, but end up talking a lot! We also want to make Dog Assisted Play Therapy to be known by other therapists.Via our education they are able to start their own business.

9. Financial sustainability plan: can you tell us about your plan to fund your project and how that plan will be sustainable in the short, medium, and long term?

In short terms we have to inform people. A lot of therapists or doctors still do not know about AAT and the benefits. They need more information about which children are helped by dog assisted play therapy, and that it is supported by research. Also the children themselfs and parents need to know about our work. In second terms we dream of a adjusted therapy-workspace. We need a bigger fenced area, with a little office . Outside we want a playgarden with many natural elements like little hills, a little pool, trees, wooden fences, .. to enhance play. We would use this field for private sessions and to work with groups to push new boundaries. When not in use, we give the possibility for pet-owners to come and play with their dogs.

10. Team: what is the current composition of your team (types of roles, qualifications, full-time vs. part-time, board members, etc.), and how do you plan to evolve the team’s composition as the project grows?

Current composition: one full-time qualified therapist and dog-behaviorist, one freelance qualified therapist. Several volunteers as dogtrainers, and pet-owners who provide their playful and social dogs, and volunteers to take care of the field. 7 therapy-dogs As the project grows we need more than one therapist. One therapist: specialised working with young children, one therapist specialised working with teenagers. Of course we will always need our several volunteers!

11. How do you plan to influence your field of work if you are a winner of this edition of the Purina BetterwithPets Prize?

We would be so proud to show society about dog-assisted play therapy so more children can be helped. We want to make people (potential clients and social workers) aware that it is possible to help children due to the special bond, in respect for children AND dogs! Especially those children who have difficulties to express themselves in spoken language because it is too complicated or burdened with negative experience. We will tell about it in our course, at congresses, …. Our special Natural-Play-Therapy-field will be seen and labelled and can be a source of inspiration for others. And who knows, we can have some of the same play-fields spread over the country....?

12. How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Ashoka page or contact

13. Example: Please walk us through one or two concrete examples of how your solution will solve the problem you’re trying to address.

The center of our work is the bound between the dog, client and the therapist.Children normally comes once a week/2 weeks.Sam, a 11 years old boy, started a few months ago working and playing with our dog 'Snowball'.He finds himself stupid, gives up very easily, and has fear of failure on school and stays home. He is a little fearfull of dogs as well but want to be a "wolf-whisperer".We already worked on his non-verbal language to present himself a little stronger and to be able to talk with Snowball without words, and created an obstacle course within the possibilities for his 'white wolf'.He tried week over week and never gave up learning Snowball to take the obstacles.In a few weeks his big day will come because we invited some family and friends to come.He gain selfconfidence to show them what he accomplished:he never gave up,he is not afraid any more of dogs,and he overcomes a lot of obstacles with a smile! The picture of Snowball in his room at home will always make him remember

14. Mutual Benefit: Explain how your project mutually benefits the pets involved – how is the pet not only used as tool?

Other projects in our foundation involve therapy for dogs and animal-welfare so we have good knowledge of a dog-needs. (we give lectures on this theme in course Clinical Animal Behaviourist by Odisee and several years on KynoCongres in The Netherlands) We only work with healthy dogs, we work with their individual qualities (some dogs work active, some more relaxed, some prefer smaller children, other teenagers,...) depending on the need of the cliënt and the interest of the dog. We respect their breaks, limit work-sessions a week, and besides their work and training they just are perfect normal pets! Several of them are rescue dogs. We still wait for approval but commit collaboration with our therapy-dogs in research to start sponsored by HABRI on "the Effects of Positive Emotions-Centred Dog Training Program and Olfactory Enrichment on welfare of AAI dogs for persons with dementia (submitted by Odisee and Dr. Haverbeke), so animal welfare is very important in our work.

15. Marketplace: Who else is addressing this problem in your environment? How does your proposed project differ from these other approaches?

Our work is linked with the work of several psychiatrist and therapists, doctors and schools. The number of children on a waiting list for mental help is long and a lot of children spent a very long time looking for the fitting help. We find each other when children are not motivated (anymore) to join therapy or as an addition to another therapy. The children we reach out for are the ones who need a bit more time to speak or have a heart for some animal language to express and heal themself. They find it more easy to come to an out-door field and a caring therapy-dog where they feel accepted and can have fun as well. A few other projects in our neighbourhood are doing nice work as well to reach children in need working with horses and donkeys. They also provide nice work, but it is more difficult to play with those animals as it is with a dog. Since we really believe to make a difference in working with play, we choose to work with dogs.

16. Tell us about how collaborations and partnerships would enhance the scalability and impact of your project.

We want to collaborate with mental care settings who believe our therapy as an addition to their work like Ave Regina www.averegina.be. They offer residential care for children in need and look for non-verbal therapies with children with severe trauma. Also a few smaler non-residentional center for mental care searched for collaborations to complete their offer in non-verbal therapies. We want to expand those collaborations to be able to show the results of our work to others by showing quality and professionalism. Because unfortuntately, therapy assisted with dogs often is still seen as something "strange" or "less valuable". And we very much do need Odisee www.odisee.be/en for the education of our students! :-). We set up this course a few years ago in collaboration with AAP www.aapvzw.be who provides AAT especially in eldery homes.

17. Awards & Recognitions: What awards or recognitions, if any, has the project received so far?

We did not receive any rewards so far. But we did get some financial support the last few years. We got a financial support from the city of Brussels to provide sessions with our therapy-dogs in elderly-homes. From CERA we got a financial support to purchase some playground equipment. And last year our volunteers organised some wonderful actions to raise some money in the context of The Warmste Week.

18. Your Self-Elevator Pitch (OPTIONAL): Share a 1-minute video that shares a quick summary of the problem you would like to solve, how you’ve chosen to solve it, and the impact you hope to see.

19. Financial Sustainability (OPTIONAL): Please tell us more about how you plan to fund and scale your project, include an attached document with your detailed business plan or other equivalent information. (This information will NOT be shared with your fellow contestant, it will only be visible to you and internal Prize reviewers).

Our current incomes are sufficient to provide the costs to employ one employee (qualified as a therapists and dog-behaviourist). All working time is claimed to provide therapy-sessions, give lectures, and do the training of the dogs. We lack extra time (=money) to grow bigger, and to really set our mark on a bigger scale. We also lack extra money to get our own play-garden. Currently we rent a field used for training the dogs and give therapy-sessions. But since it is not our own, and we have no real guaranty to be able to use it for a longer time, we can not invest and adjust the field in our way we believe it can improve our work and make our work more visible. We need external help to make a bigger business-plan. We do believe that we would have enough clients (since the existing waiting list...) but lack the financial security to make the move.

Evaluation results

5 evaluations so far

1. OVERALL Evaluation

Yes, absolutely! - 0%

Yes/maybe - 80%

Maybe - 20%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

2. Is this entry INNOVATIVE?

Yes, absolutely! - 20%

Yes/maybe - 40%

Maybe - 40%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

3. Does this entry have SOCIAL IMPACT?

Yes, absolutely! - 40%

Yes/maybe - 60%

Maybe - 0%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

4. Does this entry have potential to GROW & demonstrate LEADERSHIP?

Yes, absolutely! - 20%

Yes/maybe - 20%

Maybe - 20%

Maybe/no - 40%

No - 0%

5. Is this entry VIABLE?

Yes, absolutely! - 0%

Yes/maybe - 60%

Maybe - 20%

Maybe/no - 20%

No - 0%


Yes, absolutely! - 20%

Yes/maybe - 60%

Maybe - 20%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

7. FEEDBACK – Highlights

INNOVATION: You have a great understanding of the problem, have researched existing solutions, and have developed unique, thoughtful new solutions or used an old model in a new way - 33.3%

IMPACT: You use specific numbers and evidence to describe what your project has achieved so far (or plan to achieve in the future) and you have a plan for measuring impact - 33.3%

GROWTH & LEADERSHIP POTENTIAL: You have a thoughtful plan for growth and your founding team has a strong combination of leadership and knowledge-based skills - 33.3%

VIABIBLITY: You have given a great deal of thought to not just the idea itself but how to make it work from a financial perspective in the present and future - 66.7%

CHANGEMAKING ACTIVATION: You value thinking around how to activate changemakers and empower them to innovate through your product or programming - 100%

POTENTIAL TO CREATE SHARED VALUE: You have a clearly defined plan on how to maximize shared value across multiple sectors and stakeholders - 33.3%

WRITING STYLE: Your writing style is concise, descriptive, clear, and specific - 0%

Other option - 0%

8. FEEDBACK - Areas for Improvement

INNOVATION: Be more specific in your description of the research you have done into the past solutions to this problem and focus on how your solution is unique and innovative - 100%

IMPACT: Provide specific instances of your social impact and how you plan to measure impact – it may be helpful to describe the beneficiaries, products and programming, and provide evidence of (or plan for) how to measure impact - 100%

GROWTH & LEADERSHIP POTENTIAL: Your plan for growing the organization can benefit from more specifics. How can you round out the various skills of your current leadership team to make the project a long-term success? - 0%

VIABILITY: Make sure you have provided descriptive information about your financial sustainability plan. Where do the funds come from now and do you have a concrete plan for future sustainability? - 100%

POTENTIAL TO CREATE SHARED VALUE: Your plan can benefit from more thought on how to create value for all stakeholders, not just immediate beneficiaries - 0%

WRITING STYLE: Try to be more concise, descriptive, clear, and specific. Avoid jargon - 0%

Nothing – I thought everything was great! - 0%

Other option - 0%


Join the conversation:

Photo of Joke Decru

This project is so necessary! Let’s help each other by playing.

View all comments