Trained pets can provide various kinds of therapy to people in need.
Therapy dogs should not be confused with the more highly trained psychiatric service dogs. As the name suggests, therapy dogs are most often used to provide a therapeutic experience for those suffering from both physical and emotional problems. Animal lovers have long known about the healing power of pets, and a few decades ago, the medical community caught on in a big way. Today, just about every type of pet, from parakeets to horses, can provide a nurturing experience for those in need of a special kind of help.
Dogs are most often used to provide a therapeutic experience for those suffering from both physical and emotional problems. Their calm, accepting nature makes them especially invaluable for humans who need interaction with someone they know will not judge them.
Cats also make great therapy animals because of their calming nature. Although their talents in the pet therapy realm are less used, the benefit cats provide is no less important than that of dogs. Dogs and cats provide various kinds of therapy to people in need. Here are some of the ways and places they can do so.
Nursing Homes and Hospitals
Certified therapy dogs regularly visit residents of nursing homes and hospitalized patients, where they provide love and companionship. A visit from a therapy dog helps breaks up the day and provides relief from loneliness. Cats who are certified as therapy animals also visit these facilities, where they help patients with their soothing energy. Some nursing homes even have in-house therapy cats who live at the facility year-round.
Another type of therapy performed by dogs happens after disasters, both manmade and natural. Comfort dogs and their handlers spend time with people who have been exposed to trauma as a result of hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, mass shootings or bombings. Dogs help survivors recover from PTSD, and make it easier for psychotherapists to interact with those in need of help. Check out FEMA’s “A Beginner’s Guide to Comfort Dogs” for more info.
Both dogs and cats have proven to be valuable partners to psychotherapists working with children and other individuals who have difficultly opening up in a therapeutic setting. The presence of a dog or cat helps people relax and talk about their feelings with a therapist.
Dogs are making a difference to the children of deployed military members through play camps, sponsored by the American Humane Association and the National Military Family Association. Children who have a parent serving overseas can attend an Operation Purple camp, where they can play with therapy dogs. Interacting with the dogs helps reduce the stress kids feel when a military parent is faraway.
Therapy is an important tool in prisoner rehabilitation, and both dogs and cats have proven to be invaluable in this area. In the prison environment, pets help prisoners improve their mood, be more demonstrative with affection and be more open to therapy and learning job skills.
Where to Start
For a dog or cat to participate in therapy work, the pet has to be certified by one of the many animal-assisted therapy organizations in the U.S. that offer training and temperament evaluation. These include the Alliance of Therapy Dogs, Bright and Beautiful Therapy Dogs, Love on a Leash, Pet Partners (both dogs and cats) and Therapy Dogs International.
For information on how your dog or cat can become a therapy pet, contact one of these organizations.
About the Author: Audrey Pavia is an award-winning freelance writer and author of “The Labrador Retriever Handbook.” She is a former staff editor of Dog Fancy, Dog World and The AKC Gazette magazines. To learn more about her work, visit www.audreypavia.com and hollywoodhoofbeats.net/