Pioneering Animal-Assisted Art Therapist Straja Linder King Receives Distinguished Alumni Leadership Award

Straja Linder King graduated from Seton Hill with a master’s degree in art therapy and became one of the first Canadians to earn a designation with the American Art Therapy Association (AATA). A board-certified therapist in Calgary, Alberta, Straja holds a bachelor's degree and a bachelor of fine arts degree, both with distinction, from the University of Calgary. 

The path to her pioneering animal-assisted art therapy work started in 1992 when Straja volunteered at a hospice facility, taking her art supplies and dog Kuzel. Over three years, she observed how the residents and their families connected with Kuzel and decided to pursue professional work in art therapy. At Seton Hill, Straja’s practicum in a day hospice inspired her to continue her work in palliative care and bereavement. Today, along with teaching at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, Straja operates a private practice - Strawberry Moon Art Studio. Her specialties are clinical art therapy, psychotherapy, and animal-assisted interventions (AAI), including canine and equine. 

Straja works in complicated bereavement, including pet loss with the Humane Society, gerontology, and with people living on the autism spectrum. Her innovative approach merging animal assistance and art mitigates anxiety surrounding the issues being treated. Straja’s tireless volunteer work over 20 years with Calgary’s most vulnerable residents has helped people of all ethnicities, including Indigenous Peoples. She and her therapy dogs work in schools, hospitals, palliative and corrections facilities, and provide comfort care and support at funerals and memorial services. 

Straja teaches at the University of Lethbridge and codesigned the master’s art therapy specialization degree at St. Stephen’s College. She has written several book chapters and articles on animal-assisted eco-art therapy and conducts ongoing research surrounding animal-assisted interventions. In 2017, the American Art Therapy Association honored her dog, Twillow Rose, as “Hero Therapy Dog.” Straja’s first therapy dog, Tangus, received the “Heart of the Hero” for his therapy work in Alberta. Two of her therapy dogs were featured on the international television series “Pet Heroes – Legacy of Hope.” In 2017, Straja received the Distinguished Clinical Award – Non-Verbal Modalities from the AATA for her dedication to clients and creative approach merging animal-assisted interventions along with her clinical art therapy work.

Seton Hill University’s Distinguished Alumni Leadership Award, established in 1987, is one of the highest honors given to a graduate. Setonians have been named distinguished alumni for their leadership in education, business, science and technology, the arts, volunteerism and philanthropy.