The therapeutic use of pets (such as dogs, cats, fish, and horses) is often used within occupational therapy practice and it is considered to be a sensory modulation approach. It is sometimes also referred to as animal-assisted therapy. The integration of animal-assisted therapy into clinical practice and related research may also be found within the nursing, psychology, and rehabilitation literature as well as others. However, it has only been in the last half of the twentieth century that research and professional recognition has been gained regarding the use of pet therapy.
What are some of the therapeutic benefits?
Pet therapy influences the spirit-mind-body interconnectedness in so many ways! Activities such as watching fish swimming in a fish tank or petting a cat or dog have been found to decrease blood pressure and anxiety. Social interactions typically increase when pets are brought into nursing homes and mental healthcare settings. Perhaps most important, therapeutic interactions with pets often provide unconditional love, affection and acceptance, helping people of all ages feel a greater sense of belonging and connectedness within the world. Positive experiences with pets simply and naturally tend to bring forth nurturing instincts and behaviors.
Some of the common goals of pet therapy include:
- The facilitation of communication and social interactions
- To facilitate the expression of feelings
- To brighten mood and affect and lessen anxiety
- To help to explore grief and loss issues
- To help to improve reality orientation
- To help to improve the ability to cooperate
- To increase the ability to trust
- To help learn appropriate forms of touch
- To help to improve self-esteem and self worth
- To provide an opportunity to show affection
Bringing Pet Therapy into Practice
Hold that pose! Caught in action, at the start of a pet therapy group at Cooley-Dickinson Hospital’s acute inpatient behavioral health unit, in Northampton, MA. Occupational therapist Marie Chalifour, OTR/L is shown to the right with pet therapy dog “Joy” – trained by Bright Spot Therapy Dogs, Inc.
When bringing pet therapy into medical or therapeutic settings it is necessary to develop policy and procedures for use well in advanceof starting up the program. It is important to work in collaboration skilled pet therapy organizations that specialize in training pets and their owners about how to engage in this therapeutic process within different settings and among different populations. One example is an organization called Bright Spot Therapy Dogs, Inc., a registered non-profit 501 (c)(3) corporation. They provide interested owners and dogs with the trainings necessary to learn the skills required to qualify as an official therapy dog team. For more information go to:http://www.bright-spot.org/index.html
It is essential to collaborate with a skilled organization that knows the various policies and guidelines governing the presence of dogs in hospitals and other facilities and can help in establishing the process. A therapy dog team training process often requires: obedience trainings, a volunteer mentorship program, on-site evaluation and community awareness workshops
A Word of Caution
While there are so many benefits it is important to note that some people may not have positive experiences to pet therapy. Trauma histories, allergic reactions, paranoia or fear of certain animals are just a few examples of why this may not be a positive experience for some. Therefore, it is important to carefully assess the risks and benefits for each individual.
Want to Feature Your Pet Therapy Program?
If you are interested in featuring your pet (animal assisted) therapy program on this site please submit a paper for consideration via email to: [email protected]
Exploring the therapeutic value between pets and people: A Student’s Perspective by Sophia Asmis S/OTA