This could mean anything from local Humane Society volunteers bringing their pets to an oncology ward to provide a cuddly distraction for someone undergoing treatment, to a physical therapist using dog-walking sessions to help an accident victim get stronger. Some programs even use dogs to improve literacy since they act as a non-judgmental audience to which kids can comfortably and even eagerly read.
"I like the socialization…and I particularly enjoy seeing the response of most people to the animals," Chambers says. "I think pet therapy works because studies have shown that blood pressure is lowered by petting an animal…and because of the smiles and comments experienced."
Michelle Cobey of the Delta Society, a non-profit focused on improving human health through service and therapy animals, concurs. "I think animals are non-judgmental so patients try harder," she explains in a recent email. "[Animal-assisted therapy] is a unique, enjoyable form of treatment so patients are more motivated."
For seniors in particular, animal visits can not only alleviate loneliness, they can actually stimulate lost memories of pets they once had. "It's a real gift," says Darlene Blackman, who coordinates the SHARE (Special Human-Animal Relationships) program for the Marin Humane Society in Northern California. "They'll tell you a wonderful story about a dog they had as a child."
And it's not just the patients whose days are brightened by these visits. The visitors also leave smiling. Blackman adds, "You're not only sharing your pet, you are sharing the bond you have with your pet, and the history you have with your pet."
Just as you are willing to share your life with your pet, your pet is always there for you. "They're happy to see us all the time," Blackman says enthusiastically. All they ask in exchange for their undying love is that you return the favor. Getting your pet involved in AAT or AAA gives other people a chance to experience this wonderful unconditional love when their life circumstances prevent them from having a furry friend.
Oscar Chambers couldn't agree more. "I feel that animals provide us with a kind of love and devotion that most people appreciate. If one has experienced caring for and responding to an animal, they have enriched their own lives. If you listen to the stories people recall about animals in their lives they are almost always positive."
If you would like to get involved in AAT or AAA, visit the Delta Society, the leading international resource for the human-animal bond.
And because not all dogs are faithful, friendly companions, check out these tips to prevent dog bites.
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