With our busy lives, it can sometimes feel hard to find time to volunteer. However, the benefits of volunteering are enormous and extend to you, your family, and your community. Did you know that your pet can also volunteer to help others in your community?
Animal-assisted therapy (AAT), also known as pet therapy, uses trained animals and handlers to achieve specific physical, social, cognitive, and emotional goals with patients. Therapy pets provide affection and comfort to people in retirement homes, nursing homes, schools, hospices, and other human service care facilities.
Some of the earliest uses of animal-assisted healing in the US were for psychiatric patients. The presence of the therapy animals produced a beneficial effect on both children and adults with mental health issues. In the last few decades, AAT has been more formally applied in a variety of therapeutic settings, including schools and prisons, as well as hospitals, hospices, nursing homes, and outpatient care programs. Numerous studies have proven that when animals are around, people’s blood pressure goes down, stress and anxiety levels are reduced, people feel less lonely and less depressed, and they tend to be more social and apt to take part in community interactions. For some Alzheimer’s patients, a furry friend can sometimes prompt pleasant memories. Therapy pets have also been used to help kids with developmental disorders, such as autism, be more comfortable with the world around them.
In addition to the health benefits an AAT animal brings, many skills can be learned or improved with their assistance. Physical rehabilitation patients can be encouraged by such activities as walking, running or playing fetch with a dog. The patients’ fine motor skills may be developed by petting, grooming, or feeding the animal. Communication skills are encouraged by the response of the animal to both verbal and physical commands. Activities such as writing or talking about the therapy animals or past pets also develop cognitive skills and strengthen communication. Creative ways to include an animal in the life or therapy of a patient can make a major difference in the patient’s comfort, progress, and recovery.
According to the nationally recognized non-profit organization Pet Partners (petpartners.org), there are a great many species that make wonderful visiting animals and can form a strong human-animal bond. The following species may become Pet Partners Therapy Animals: dogs, cats, guinea pigs, rabbits, domesticated rats, horses, donkeys, llamas, alpacas, pot-bellied pigs, and birds. The most important characteristic of an AAT animal is their temperment. If your pet exhibits both good manners and good health, he or she may be a good candidate!
Locally, Mission Hospital accepts approved dogs and their owners in their Paws On a Mission program. For more information, call the Mission pet therapy coordinators at (828) 213-0131. To learn more about the AAT process, visit petpartners.org or check with your local humane society.
DID YOU KNOW? Sigmund Freud kept many dogs and often had his chow Jofi present during his pioneering psychoanalysis sessions.
THERAPY DOGS MUST:
• Be in good health
• Be at least one year of age
• Be good around other dogs
• Listen to their handlers
• Allow strangers to touch them all over
• Not jump on people when interacting
• Walk on a leash without pulling
• Not mind strange noises and smells
• Be calm for petting
• Not be afraid of people walking unsteadily
• Be current on all vaccines required by the local laws
• Have a negative fecal test every 12 months
• Be clean and well groomed
Courtesy of therapydogs.com