By Emily Murray
The desire to have animals in our lives begins in the first few years of development and for many the desire never leaves. “Can we keep him mommy, pleeeease,” is often the start of it all the first time we find a stray dog, frog or furry creature of any kind. When we have this family dog, a rabbit or perhaps a guinea pig, we not only find a friend but also learn responsibility and the amazing bonding capabilities that can bridge the gap between animals and humans. As we get older, our childhood pets are no longer with us, but new pet friends take their place and their importance to our mental and physical health grows even stronger.
Pet therapy (or animal-assisted therapy) is one of the most successful and enjoyable means of relaxation and rehabilitation for children, adults and seniors alike. The following are some of the most common conditions and situations where patients benefit with a little help from their four legged friends.
Nearly 10% of the American population suffers from depression. For those who have tried other therapy treatments with little success, having a canine therapist is often beneficial for nearly anyone with a soft spot for a furry face and a waggly tail. There is something about having a constant companion that is very comforting. Pets are never upset to see you, even if you forget to feed them their breakfast or ran out the door quickly without having a chance to say goodbye. They don’t share secrets, never say “you should have done this” and are always estatic to see you…even if you have only been gone a few minutes.
According to a WebMD article on the subject, the simple act of having “unconditional love,” helps lift the spirits. It’s not only cats and dogs that can provide this sort of companionship and comfort, many people have parrots, horses, rabbits or many other animals – in fact, one may even surprise you…
In last week’s news there was a perfect example of a unlikely animal therapist.
A woman in Oklahoma suffered from depression and befriended a partly paralyzed kangaroo. The unlikely pair caused quite a stir when the city council discovered an exotic animal was being kept in the nearby house. Fortunately, after much debate, she will be allowed to keep Irwin, her injured marsupial friend and the two can continue to be therapeutic for one another. He needs her to be able to stand due to his physical disability and she finds relief from her depression through his companionship and the care he requires.
For many older adults, pet therapy works wonders. Patients who are suffering emotional or physical pain, these unpleasant feelings seem to subside for the time and comfort comes from having a moment of pure happiness. Many senior centers feature certain days for pet therapy and have noted the benefits, as seen in this article on the subject.
Children suffering from autism have also shown rapid improvement in their social interaction skills when they participate in pet therapy sessions. In fact, there are multiple reports which have been done on the subject showing that children who normally have the telltale lag in attention span and ability to interact with others, begin to show rapid improvement.
Whether you have a pet in your family as therapy or friendship, we are only just beginning to realize the amazing healing potential that animals can provide us with.