PETS & US
Citadel columnist PRIYA PODUVAL introduces readers to the concept of PET THERAPY and its advantages, which cure human physical disabilities and mental illnesses.
Pet expert PRIYA PODUVAL introduces readers to the concept of PET THERAPY and its advantages
Pet Therapy, or Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT) is a guided interaction between a person and a trained animal. It is often confused with Animal-Assisted Activities (AAA). AAT is basically a formal and structured set of sessions that help people reach specic goals in their treatment, whereas AAA involves more casual meetings in which an animal and its handler interact with one or more people for comfort or recreation. The main purpose of AAT or pet therapy is to help someone recover from, or cope with, a health or mental disorder. It can help reduce blood pressure and improve overall cardiovascular health, stress levels, anxiety, l oneliness, boredom and depression. It can also increase personal well-being, self-esteem, and improve social skills. The animals that work at providing therapy also give social support and companionship. Most animals that are used for this kind of therapy are pets that come from happy homes. An animal’s owner and handler must also undergo training and evaluation to ensure a positive experience. AAT has stringent rules to ensure that domesticated pets are screened before they are certied animal angels. The first step in pet therapy is the selection of a suitable animal. Many groups and organizations train and connect volunteer owners and pets with healthcare providers. Before an animal and its handler can participate in pet therapy, the both of them as a team have to full certain requirements. The pet should be vaccinated, physically able, and free of disease. It should be obedient to ensure proper animal control. The pet parent or handler should also undergo some training on effective and sensitive interactions with people. Once a team of an animal and a handler is approved, animals are assigned for therapy based on a person’s specic needs. The animal’s type, breed, size, age, and natural behaviour will determine where it will be most helpful. The most common animals used in pet therapy are dogs and cats. However, these days, sh, guinea pigs, horses, and other animals that are friendly, social, and free of disease can also be used. Based on the therapeutic goals of a person’s treatment plan, an animal is chosen. Why do people opt for pet therapy? Well, human beings are complex creatures with a unique set of likes and dislikes. When they are ill or old, they reach a stage in their life when the interaction with another human being just cannot elicit a positive reaction. There is just plain resistance or numbness. Dened objectives are an important part of therapy, this kind
of therapy is in itself something very novel and the sound of it is like a trip to Disneyland. It builds on the pre-existing human-animal bond and interacting with a friendly pet can help many physical and mental issues, improving the overall psychological state. The doctor or therapist managing the treatment will suggest pet therapy. A trained handler, often the pet’s owner, takes the animal to every meeting and works under the doctor’s or therapist’s direction, in order to reach the patient’s specic goals. Often, the handlers, who are mostly the pet’s parent, work as volunteers. Once the handler, patient and patient’s family and doctor have discussed the course of therapy, there is nothing that can stop them from administering it to the patient. Majority of the people who opt for AAT are those who are undergoing chemotherapy or terminally ill. AAT is helpful for people who are old and young, living in long-term care facilities. In addition, it helps to cure mental and health disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder and heart strokes. Also, it has been observed that people regain their motor skills by exercising with the pet. When people are ill and have medical procedures, there is less anxiety if a pet is present. People who have sensory disabilities can sometimes communicate more easily with an animal. There is no fear of judgment, nor is there any irritation shown by such animals. This encourages more interaction with healthcare providers and other people. These days, there is a boom in AAT. No amount of technology can replace touch and the unconditional love of an animal. Children, who are our future, seem to benet greatly from AAT. If they have problems interacting with other kids, the animal provides them with a few non-stressful moments and their own space, wherein there is no judgment. Also, pet therapy helps to decrease the feelings of isolation and alienation among kids. It helps them increase their self-condence and reduce their selfconsciousness. They are encouraged to communicate. For those children who have trouble learning, AAT increases their focus better, improves their literacy skills, and encourages the love of reading and learning in general. There are few risks to consider when opting for AAT, the major ones being safety and sanitation. Those who are allergic to animal dander may have reactions during pet therapy. Sometimes, human injury can occur when unsuitable animals are used. The animal may also suffer injury or abuse when handled inappropriately. In some cases, people may become possessive of the animals, thus becoming an integral part of the patient’s life. This can result in low self-esteem and depression for the patient. AAT is on the rise and it is a proven antidote that love need not always come on two legs. Four can also help young children, the elderly, and everyone in between. Stroking a living creature, whether hard-shelled or furry, can be benecial even for those who say they don’t like or fear animals. The act of caring for a living creature seems to make all the difference.