Pet Therapy: a background to animal assisted healing

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Today we have an international guest blogger – Peter Grose in the UK

Anyone who owns a pet, especially of the warm, furry variety, will be well aware of the therapeutic qualities they offer – unconditional love, companionship and compassion, but for some people pets offer vital therapy.

A recent documentary explored the intrinsic bond between human and ‘mans best friend’, with studies offering evidence that by focusing on the left side of the human face dogs were able to read our emotions, an exercise that the species has learnt during it’s vast historic relationship with man – this is not something dogs do with each other or any other animal. And the evidence came as very welcome relief for many people, especially dog lovers, who had been lauding the virtues of animal therapy for years.

The first seeds of animal assisted healing were born during World War II, when the dog of an injured Corporal was brought into a hospital in the Philippines – the dog became such a hit in the ward that the Commanding Officer of the Hospital started to take the dog on his rounds. But it wasn’t until the 1970’s that the approach became systemised – when a nurse, who noticed the therapeutic effects the visits of a Chaplin and his golden retriever had on her patients, started to train dogs specifically to visit hospitals and care institutions.

Today there are all kinds of organizations that champion the value of animals in aiding with conditions such as dementia, depression and anxiety, as well as physical and mental disabilities. Alongside offering people an incentive for slipping the dog collar on Fido and getting outside, a sense of purpose and also companionship, studies have also shown that owning a pet can reduce blood pressure, thus reducing the chances of suffering a heart attack or from coronary disease.

Alongside P.A.T dogs, a nationwide scheme in the UK, running since 1983, that trains and takes dogs and cats into hospitals, care homes and hospices to meet with residents, there are dog walking services available for the elderly and infirm, to ensure that people are able to keep pets at home regardless of mobility or health, and pet friendly care homes, where people can take their own pets or benefit from permanent residential animals when they move into sheltered accommodation.

For more information about volunteering or benefiting from any of these services, keep an eye out for flyers and posters in local pet shops, or ask at veterinary clinics and doctors surgeries.

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