Those of us, who own a pet, know the joy that they bring us each day. They make us want to get up in the morning, they are more than pets they’re family members. Dogs especially, give us unconditional love not only to cuddle with but to also give us their emotional support. So why not integrate a furry friend into the health care field. Animals are a lot more useful than just pets. They are a great help in emotional and physical therapy. Bringing an animal into a hospital greatly improves the rate of healing of patients, as well in a senior’s home improves the quality of life. Patients who do not have anyone to visit them would get joy out of exposure of an animal.
Therapy dogs have a great, especially for children with disabilities. Animals are shown to reduce stress, anxiety, and loneliness. Also, animals are versatile enough to cover a large area of disabilities. In one study, a young girl with dyslexia benefitted from reading to a dog named Willie. The owner of the dog volunteered to bring him to the library so the girl could read to Willie. He helped her gain enough confidence to start practicing to read on her own and eventually read out loud where other children around her could hear. Eventually she learned to not get distracted by the people around her while she concentrated on reading (Watts).
This dog in his own way “healed” her. She learned to gain confidence in herself. She did not let her disability affect her thanks to Willie. There need to be more programs out there for children like her. This little example helped us see that a dog can be versatile. Yes they are animals, but if this teaches us anything, is that they are more than animals.
The professional use of animal-assisted therapy (AAT) started with a psychiatrist names Dr. Boris Levinson that, while treating a severely disturbed child, noticed the amazing effects that his dog, Jingles, had on the child’s behavior. The child, after being left alone for just a couple of minutes with Jingles, was found to be talking and “breaking out” of his shell a little. The growing number of pets in U.S. homes corresponds to the growing number of therapy animals. Many therapists have claimed that AAT provides an opportunity for children to experience success and adaptation to their environment. These children in the AAT programs become more active in their own therapy, are more self –reliant, and are comfortable with themselves (Chitic). Had it not been for the psychiatrist stepping out of the room and leaving the child there by himself with the dog, he would have never known the benefits that his dog brought to the child. Who knows how the child would have been emotionally down the road.
There are a growing number of young children with autism in the U.S. today. It is estimated that one in 109 children are diagnosed with autism. Interaction with animals can help children with autism become more physically developed and improve their; strength, coordination, and physical abilities. More importantly, many people get a lot joy from their relationship with animals, which can help autistic children have a better sense of well-being and more self-confidence.
Therapy dogs can even fulfill a dying Hospice patient’s last wish. There is a video on YouTube about a 17-year-old therapy dog that accompanied a Hospice patient to the movies to see “Harry Potter” before she passed away. The dog’s name was Baxter and he went happily in a red carriage. This was a news coverage video from FOX channel 6. The lady passed away shortly after that ().
Although the AAT practices were started in England at AAT at the York Asylum in England in the late 18th century, they were not recognized as a certified therapy practice (Chitic). AAT is designated to help with physical, emotional, social, intellectual, and thinking skills. They also help with motivation and education by making children more excited to learn while having the company of a furry friend. There is no definite answer when trying to define social skills. Merrell and Gimpel give a definition suggesting that: “Social skills are learned, composed of specific behaviors, include initiations and responses, maximize social reinforcement, are interactive and situation-specific, and can be specified as targets for intervention.” This tells us that while not using social skill may be a social skill deficit, the use of social skills is adaptive (Chitic).
Many people confuse AAT with service dogs. Service dogs are Seeing Eye dogs, they help with everyday tasks such as getting ready in the morning, helping its handler walk down the street, etc., and therapy dogs are aids in specific medically necessary therapy. They help people to cope with emotional problems, also encourage doing physical tasks that would be difficult for a person who is not motivated to get going.
AAT helps patients to emotionally cope with the fact that they have cancer and have a long way to go. Recovery may be minimal and some surgery may be disfiguring, but these animals help them process what they are going through. They also help the patients with their anxiety about the pain, symptoms, and death. The non-drug treatment with cancer management also helps improve patient’s quality of life (Reed). The dogs have been highly trained to stay calm in stressful situations and to interact with strangers bringing them comfort and emotional support.
There is another example of a boy who had cancer and having a therapy dog made him more comfortable in social situations (Marcus). He didn’t feel so awkward around his friends or family. His friends and strangers did not start conversations about the way he looked, but about his therapy dog. There are some cons that parents must realize before making the commitment to get involved in a therapy dog program. The animals must be well behaved, kept clean and parasite free, not be sick, and be up-to-date with vaccines.
There are certain things one must do before getting their pet certified. The dog must go through a strict behavior training program. Any dog can be a therapy dog as long as they can stay calmed and well behaved. A service dog cannot be a therapy dog as well. There is no age limit that the handler must be in order to participate in the program, but they do need a parent to accompany them to the visitations if they are under the age of 18 (TDI). They also will need their guardian to sign the registration form granting them permission. If the handler wants more than one pet on their team to accompany them to their scheduled visits, they must have all pets that they wish to bring with them tested at the same time to determine how well their teamwork is.
The test evaluation usually begins as soon as the tester can physically see the handler and the dog, not just during the testing phase. There are many requirements that a dog must meet before taking the certification test. They must be at least one year of age and be fully vaccinated (TDI). They must be in good health standing as determined by the veterinarian. They must be parasite free and have a negative fecal exam. They are not required to be fixed. They look at how the animal relates to the handler and vice-versa. How the animal and handler relate to others(TDI). The animal must be reliable, predictable, and controllable. They need to be people-oriented and sociable, comfortable being touched awkwardly at times. Also, able to cope with stressful situations while being comfortable crowded by a group of people and. Last but not least, have a non-threatening or neutral body posture, a.k.a. a relaxed face (TDI).
Patients need to feel comfortable with the handler in order for the therapy to work to its fullest. That’s why there are some requirements a handler must meet. They must be friendly, comfortable in healthcare settings, be confident, natural and relaxed. Also, be aware of animal behaviors, responses and reassure with cues, be proactive. They need ensure the animal’s well-being, not yell or jerk on the leash. And last but not least, have a gentle interaction with your animal in a friendly, normal tone.
Not everyone is cut out to be a therapy dog handler. There are many people that cannot control their emotions and keep their personal beliefs to themselves. Also not everyone can visit a Hospice location without getting emotional and making the patient feel worse.
The above reasons give us a solid understanding of the effects of animals in hospitals and senior residences, showing us that is in our best interest to introduce animals into healing environments and nursing facilities. To have a wonderful, well behaved, furry friend to come and visit helps patients greatly.
Altschiller, Donald. Animal-Assisted Therapy. California: Greenwood, 2011. Print
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Marcus, Dawn. Therapy Dogs in Cancer Care: A Valuable Complementary Treatment. New York: Springer, 2012. Amazon. Web. 10 Mar. 2013.
Reed, Reiley, Lilian Ferrer, and Natalia Villegas. "Natural Healers: A Review Of Animal Assisted Therapy And Activities As Complementary Treatment For Chronic Conditions." Revista Latino-Americana De Enfermagem (RLAE) 20.3 (2012): 612-618. Academic Search Complete. Web. 28 Jan. 2013.
Therapy Dogs International. “Testing Requirements.” TDI Dog N.p. Jan. 2013. Web. 13 Mar. 2013.
Watts, Katie, and Stout Everly Janet. "Helping Children with Disabilities through Animal-Assisted Therapy." The Exceptional Parent 2009: 34-5. ProQuest Nursing & Allied Health Source; ProQuest Research Library. Web. 4 Feb. 2013
Zhu Yao Yao, et al. "The Effects Of Animal-Assisted Therapy On Wounded Warriors In An Occupational Therapy Life Skills Program." U.S. Army Medical Department Journal (2012): 38-45. Academic Search Complete. Web. 23 Jan. 2013.