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A Guide to Therapy Animals


Labrador retriever therapy dog

Most people are familiar with service animals that assist people with disabilities. Often highly trained dogs, service animals help people with vision, hearing, and mobility disabilities to perform tasks that their owners cannot perform independently. Service animals may guide people who cannot see, or they may help people with mobility issues. Therapy animals serve a different type of need, but these animals also often play an important role for the people they help. Therapy animals don't have the same type of strict training, but these pets provide loving companionship to people. To become a therapy pet, an animal must exhibit a patient and loving nature that enables them to bond with humans in need.


Types of Therapy Animals

While dogs may be a common therapy animal, other animals can also make effective helpmates for people. Cats also make good therapy animals, especially for people who have an affinity for felines. Many different animals can participate in pet therapy, helping people recover from or cope with a mental disorder or health issue. Some people have gained comfort and solace from horses, goats, guinea pigs, rabbits, birds, or even snakes. An animal's owner may recognize that their pet has traits that would make it an effective therapy animal. The next step would involve the owner enrolling the pet in a class or contacting a therapist who works with therapy animals with the purpose of assessing the animal to determine whether it would make a suitable volunteer. After a physical exam to ensure that the animal is healthy and any necessary obedience training to ensure good behavior, the owner will usually pursue special training to prepare for the process of helping the pet work with people. The therapy animals would then be assigned to assist people as needed.

 

Services of Therapy Animals

Sometimes just the presence of an animal can be calming and soothing for a person experiencing pain or anxiety. Therapists may use a therapy animal to observe how a person interacts with the animal. A therapist can also use a therapy animal to show a patient appropriate ways of interacting with the animal. This modeling can be an extremely effective way to teach social skills to patients. Even the process of interacting with a therapy animal through touch can be beneficial for a person. A patient and loving pet that allows a person to pet it and hug it can be calming and soothing for people. Many times, a cat or dog doesn't have to do anything more than allow a patient to pet it and hug it. These animals also have an innate ability to give love and acceptance to people without judgment or strings. Receiving love from an animal despite any flaws or imperfections can be affirming and helpful for people struggling with emotional issues. Therapy animals often work in hospitals, visiting patients of all ages who are sick and receiving treatments.

 

Disabilities Served by Therapy Animals

Many people can benefit from animal-assisted therapy. People experiencing emotional disorders or issues often feel comforted by the calm love given by a pet. People who are recovering from an illness or surgery can also benefit from therapy animals. In these cases, the animals can help patients improve their balance, coordination, and fine motor skills. Therapy pets can even help children in learning environments. Students can read to a therapy animal, which often reduces self-consciousness and improves confidence levels. Pets can also help patients focus their attention and improve their self-control. As skills are learned or relearned with the therapy animals, patients increase their self-esteem and self-confidence. Patients with heart disease or who are recovering from strokes often experience reduced blood pressure and elevated moods after spending time regularly with therapy animals. Even reluctant patients who don't want to participate in therapy often feel motivated to try when a pet is involved. From children with attention or behavioral issues to adults battling depression to people with life-threatening diseases, therapy animals have had a positive impact on treatment.

 

by: Nick Braun

 

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