Kristine Aanderson found a way to develop a career and volunteer programs around healing with pets. The 29-year-old owner of Aanderson Animal Assisted Counselling and mom to two-year-old daughter Valkyrie likes to keep busy. “I have always been an animal nut,” Kristine laughs. “I was so excited when I started my Bachelor’s degree to discover that there was a profession that had animals helping people.” Since graduating from Athabasca University with the Bachelor of Arts in Psychology in 2006, Kristine went on to receive her Master’s in Counselling from Yorkville University, and a certificate in Post-Combat Behavioural Health from Alliant International University in 2009, and became a registered provisional psychologist with the College of Alberta Psychologists in 2010.
Her practice, opened in 2009, provides traditional therapy as well as specialized services like binge eating treatment. What sets her apart is her use of a therapy dog and cat—named Pippin and Roger—to help put clients at ease.
Kristine also collaborated as the project manager with the Government of Alberta to develop a pilot program that certifies owner-trained service dogs for people with mental disabilities to help them deal with their illness and become reintegrated in society. Hope Heels launched last year and has two main components: Psychiatric Service Dogs helps patients by alerting them to out- of-control emotions, lowering the severity of anxiety attacks, reminding them to take medication and much more. The Bravo K9 program caters specifically to war veterans or service members who have symptoms of Operational Stress Injury or Post Traumatic
“Things they wouldn’t do for themselves, they have to do for the dogs,” Kristine explains. “So they’ll start to reintegrate with their life and start to do those things like going to the movies or grocery shopping again.” Her demo dog Vimy has set the standard for other service dogs to be trained in both sectors of Hope Heels. Participants can keep the trained dogs for themselves or place them with others.
No stranger to training herself, Kristine has received education in more than 14 different areas associated with her work. “Whenever I see a need that has to be addressed, and I think I have the knowledge and skill set to address it, I just say, ‘Let’s get started!’” In 2008, she published a book with the Chimo Project, called Paws on Purpose, showcasing the benefits of animal-assisted therapy, and authored two research articles.
Kristine’s volunteer activities include dedicating about 15 hours per week to Hope Heels, counselling with The Support Network, and serving on the board of the Canadian Fallen Heroes Foundation.
Kristine says she always works in five-year chunks; her current mission is to grow her business, and her family. “I don’t suppose to guess what I’m going to be doing in five years. But I know I’m going to love it and I know it’s going to be fun.”