Not all Heroes have Hands
Hundreds of thousands of people rely on their therapy dogs every day. However, public knowledge of what they truly do and what makes them different from normal pets is limited. With the number of therapy pets estimated to be near half a million in America alone, understanding what they really do and what it means for an animal to be a certified therapy animal can be valuable.
These animals can be beneficial for their owners in many ways. According to redbarninc.com, there are both physical and mental benefits of pet therapy. “[Pet Therapy] lowers blood pressure, improves cardiovascular health, releases calming endorphins (oxytocin), lowers overall physical pain,” the site stated “[even] the act of petting produces an automatic relaxation response, which is believed to reduce the amount of medication needed by some people.” Therapy animals –which can range from cats and dogs to guinea pigs, llamas, pigs, and rats– also have a strong effect on their recipient’s mental health. They provide comfort, lower levels of depression and anxiety, improve socialization and can even help children in overcoming speech and emotional disorders.
These pets are used in many different areas. There are some which have just one owner who they take care of, but there are many situations where the animals are used to help multiple people at a time. It has become a common way for many health professionals to use these animals to help improve their patients’ social, emotional and mental health. Another common area where therapy animals are used is in hospitals. Having the animals available to patients by request helps them relax and be able to focus on something outside of their illness. The use of therapy animals as a way to cope is even used after natural disasters. Local and national organizations provide animals to the affected areas to help lift spirits.
Many high schools and colleges bring therapy animals around midterms and finals to help their students destress before their testing. The animals, usually dogs, have been seen to improve students’ social, cognitive and emotional functioning. For younger children, these animals are used to increase attendance and confidence.
However, therapy dogs are commonly mistaken as being the same as service dogs. While service dogs are specially trained to recognize any danger to their owner’s health, therapy dogs are trained to provide general comfort to anyone they come in contact with.
These animals have become an effective way for professionals and even everyday people to be able to cope with stress and anxiety. More and more schools and hospitals are opening their doors to this new wave of treatment for patients.