In the United States pet therapy began with psychiatric patients. Researchers found that contact with animals helped patients open up and connect with the world around them. Since that time; animals have proven beneficial in a wide range of institutions including; prisons, hospices, hospitals, schools and nursing homes.
Pet therapy; while enjoyable for the handler and the animal, is proven to have significant affect on patients. Contact with an animal is proven to lower blood pressure, and can also possibly release those wonderfully natural occurring chemicals in our bodies known as endorphins which give an over-all sense of well-being. Petting, grooming or feeding an animal can assist with developing fine motor skills. Pets help lower depression by encouraging people to express themselves more openly (it can be very difficult not to smile or talk to an animal that is pouring unconditional love and affection on us). Communication is also encouraged with the use of verbal commands to generate a response from the animal. Cognitive skills and communication are also enhanced by encouraging patients to write about their experiences with pet therapy. In addition; pets are a stimulus for healthy living by creating a need to exercise, they keep us busy and can even make us feel safer and less lonely. They also encourage social behavior by increasing the desire to interact with others who enjoy pets.
Dogs are the most commonly used therapy animal; however, cats, birds, horses, rabbits and other domestic pets are successfully screened and trained for therapy programs every day.
Pets in general far outweigh the benefits of pills in more situations than most people consider. From a personal prospective, even on my most significant pain days I know that I have someone depending on me to get up and get mobile and many times, I find that once my mind is focused on that, it is too busy to focus on the pain. While the pain is still there, it is not as prevalent for those moments. My animals (I have three dogs and two horses) tend to understand my mood, my physical condition and my needs before I do. I have lost count of how many times they’ve encouraged me to move when I’ve sat still too long. My horses patiently allow me to lean on them when I get weak and they nudge me for hugs and kisses on their noses. The dog I’ve had the longest even alerted me once of some embers that had ignited in the pail after I removed ashes from the fireplace. I had left the room for only a moment but the change in her tone and the urgency of her bark alerted me something was truly wrong.
Regardless of how my disease progresses, there will never be a time I will be without the healing touch of an animal.