Magen David Yarok
College of Para-Veterinary Studies
Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT)
Dr. Avi Leilien is a veterinarian and the founder and Chief Executive Director of Magen David College for Para-Veterinary studies. The College was established 14 years ago by Dr. Leilien.

The "Magen David Yarok" College is a unique school that prepares students in the following fields: Veterinary Assistance, Animal-assisted Therapy, Dog Training, Dog & Cat grooming. The school also developed a special program: "The Young Veterinarian", geared toward students from 1st grade and up to the 12th grade high school students who are preparing for their S.A.T exams (Bagrut) in veterinary.

About two years ago Magen David Yarok and Dr. Leilien received the 1st prize in the category of Entrepreneurial-Educational programs in Israel. They received the prize from the hands of Ehud Olmert, now the Prime Minister of Israel.

The animal-assisted therapy (AAT) is an approach that uses animals as a therapeutic tool to help in the physical or mental treatment of human beings with various kinds of problems – physical, cognitive and psycho-social. The persistent security and economic pressure in Israel are causing more people to need AAT, which is relatively inexpensive and yields fairly immediate results. Teaching AAT is quite new in Israel; it is done in the Magen David Yarok (Green Star of David) College, established in 1994 to train veterinary technicians, and now a unique educational center for a wide range of para-veterinary skills, including veterinary nursing, animal-assisted therapy, dog training and pet grooming.

Our main goal in the teaching program is to match an animal to each patient according his specific therapeutic needs. Therefore, we use a wide variety of animals, including invertebrates. In general, the animals used are classed as transportable or non-transportable. The former include pet birds, reptiles, rabbits, rodents, dogs, cats, ferrets, amphibians and some invertebrates. The latter include horses (therapeutic riding), dolphins and zoological collections (zoos and pet corners).

The teaching program aims: 1. to teach basic psychological principles related to human-animal interactions; 2. to teach basic veterinary practice, including especially zootechnical and zoonotic (medical risks for humans) aspects of the close interaction between people and animals; and 3. to use these tools in treating human patients.

In using animals to treat people it is obligatory to verify that the animal is not a carrier of diseases that endanger people, especially patients who are immunosuppressed because of disease, chemotherapy or other causes. Moreover, Israel is located on essential pathways of migratory birds that may introduce diseases that endanger animals and people (e.g., West Nile Disease). Therefore, the animals must be periodically examined for carried pathogens.

Some examples of zoonotic risks for humans:
  1. Psittacosis (caused by Chlamydophila psittaci ) - a widespread infection of pet birds and reptiles, mostly as subclinical carriers.
  2. Salmonellosis ( Salmonella spp.) - abundant in reptiles, usually as subclinical carriers, but also in pet birds, rodents, etc.
  3. Sarcoptes scabies of rabbits, which causes itching in people.
  4. Various fungal (e.g., Aspergillus spp., Cryptococcus neoformans, especially in pigeon droppings) and protozoal (e.g., Cryptosporidium ) agents, which especially endanger immunosuppressed people

Veterinary supervision is also needed to ensure correct husbandry and transportation, and to minimize stressing of animals. Aggressive animals should not be used because they may bite or scratch the patients.


Two examples out of many AAT cases successfully treated by students of Magen David Yarok college are: A 50-year-old man suffering from schizophrenia since his military service, was successfully treated with a hand-fed female cockatiel ( Nymphicus hollandicus ), and a 39-year-old man with mental deficiency was successfully treated with guinea pigs ( Cavia porcellus ). In both examples, the life quality of the human patient was improved, their self-confidence was enhanced by their responsibility for taking care of the animals, and their ability to communicate with other people improved.