Research shows pets provide great health benefits to people. They can reduce stress, lower blood pressure, uplift our moods, and add years to our life. The simple fact that our pets accept us for who we are, they love us unconditionally and are devoted companion, often waiting by the door for our return, makes us smile and builds our confidence and self-esteem. Dogs get us outdoors for fresh air and walks, and cats curl up in our laps and purr. All of these things and more are healthy benefits to people, both emotionally and physically.
People in nursing homes, hospitals, and hospice often feel weak, are in pain, and get discouraged. Many are lonely. Therapy pets raise their spirits, bringing smiles and joy into situations that can be sad and scary. Pet Partners, formally the Delta Society, and other groups certify pets and their owners for visiting these and other public places and studies show these animals provide great benefits to those whom they visit.
My Springer/Cocker mix Mary and I are certified as a pet therapy team by Therapy Dogs, Inc. We have visited schools and nursing homes and will continue these visits for some time to come. Mary makes an excellent pet therapy dog – she lies quietly on a floor or rug and lets children pet her in the classroom, or she goes to someone in a wheelchair and sits quietly as an elderly person pats her head. Mary enjoys interacting with people, young and old, and she seems to sense those who are in need of emotional connection. Dogs and people share a unique bond, and that becomes even more apparent in a setting such as a school or a nursing home.
Other animals, too, can be used in therapy situations; cats, bunnies, guinea pigs, even horses offer therapeutic value in various circumstances.
Unlike people with whom relationships can be complex, unpredictable, and stressful, animals are a great source of stability and companionship. Having a pet in one’s home can be calming and offer comfort when one is ill. Animals don’t change, and their loyalty to their owners and their ability to rebound from tough situations can be inspiring. The simple act of petting a dog or cat can lower blood pressure and bring a sense of calm to one’s spirit. Interacting with that pet in a playful manner can generate enjoyment and laughter. Even watching fish in a beautiful tank can bring about a sense of peace and an enjoyment of splendor through the colors of both the fish and the tank. And, don’t we all need a bit more tranquility and stability in our lives?
Pets are also a great source of comfort, especially for those affected by natural and other disasters. The K-9 Comfort Dogs from Lutheran Church Charities travel America to help quell the squall people experience after tornadoes, bombings, and other tragedies.
No matter what we’re experiencing, we find love, devotion, acceptance and comfort from the furry friends around us … and we can share that special beauty with others by being partners with our pets in helping those in our community and our country.
Have you hugged your pet today? Do so, and get a bit of pet therapy in your day!
Read an article I wrote about a Casper, Wyo., pet therapy group at the local hospice: http://www.casperjournal.com/news/article_dd2409fd-e3bf-5e2c-aba7-53f62cd522fa.html
Gayle M. Irwin is a writer and public relations professional who volunteers with various animal rescue groups. She enjoys sharing her books and her passion for pets and the environment with others.