Posted June 25, 2009
Depression, loneliness, stress and anxiety threaten the health
of our society. Oftentimes, old age and rehabilitation foster the
negative emotional, psychological and physical ailments that can
take a damaging toll on our well-being. Prescription medications
and psychiatrists work hard to provide the suffering with help, but
sometimes a sloppy, wet kiss from a furry friend makes for good
medicine as well.
While not considered to be a conventional healing method,
animal-assisted therapy has proven to increase the health of those
in agony and bring comfort to those in need.
"The Delta Society defines animal-assisted therapy as a
goal-directed intervention in which an animal meets specific
criteria as an integral part of the treatment process," says Kit
Darling, the Infection Control Coordinator for the Texas A&M
College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences and owner
of a certified therapy dog. "Animal-assisted therapy provides
multiple benefits including fine and gross motor skills; verbal,
tactile, and auditory stimulation; ambulation and equilibrium;
decision making and instruction following; memory recall; and
extended and concentrated attention span."
With all of their abilities, it is clear that animals can
provide an excellent service to humans. But how are these services
positively affecting our health?
"People can benefit from human-animal interaction socially,
psychologically and physically," elaborates Darling. "Animals
encourage social interaction with others, increase activity levels,
strengthen motivation, and restore a sense of well-being. They also
have the ability to decrease stress, anxiety and blood pressure
Animals are used in many settings and with many different people
to better the health of hurting individuals. Kit Darling describes
exactly how pets provide encouragement.
"Animal-assisted activities and animal-assisted therapy may be
used in physical, occupational, recreational, and speech therapy
settings," explains Darling. "Animals do not judge people by their
looks or disabilities. They simply want our attention. The pets
that perform animal-assisted activities and therapy are anxious to
meet people and bring a smile to someone's face. Their attempts to
please help create a sense of well-being in humans."
Pets in these programs often relieve loneliness for the elderly
who have lost a spouse or whose children have moved away.
"Pets can help the elderly by being companions," comments
Darling. "Caring for a pet may help one feel a sense of purpose and
increase activity, oftentimes helping with loneliness. Receiving a
visit from a pet can support social contact, not only with the
animal, but also with the person bringing the pet for a visit."
But these furry companions are helping more than just the
elderly. Animals can encourage the terminally ill and those
recovering from extensive surgeries and rehabilitation
"Pets can be comforting and calming, decreasing loneliness that
may be felt throughout these difficult situations," notes Darling.
"Animal-assisted therapy is useful in increasing fine and gross
motor skills, verbal and tactile stimulation and ambulation, aiding
the rehabilitation process. Sometimes, patients will respond to
animals, even when they are not responding to humans."
The miracles of pet therapy on human health are evident and
real. Perhaps this is why Darling and her own pet actively
participate in her local animal-assistance non-profit organization,
Aggieland Pets with a Purpose.
"I have been a volunteer since the organization's formation and
my dog, Dexter, was in the first group of animals evaluated,"
boasts Darling. "Dexter is a long-haired dachshund that has touched
many lives through animal-assisted therapy. He has helped school
children, autistic children, the elderly and those recovering from
strokes and trauma. I have seen several children talk to him about
their problems and both adults and children talk to him when they
were not talking very much to other humans. I thank Dexter that he
allows me to go along and watch him work."
Animal-assisted therapy and activity programs are providing
support and increasing the health of those in need. Pets like
Dexter provide unconditional love that can better our lives when it
seems like nothing else can.
About Pet Talk
Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine
& Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be
viewed on the Web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk.
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Angela G. Clendenin
Director, Communications & Public Relations
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Cell - (979) 739-5718
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