Pet therapy is a broad term that includes animal-assisted medical therapy and other animal-assisted activities. It is a growing field that uses animals in a variety of settings like nursing homes, mental institutions and prisons to help people deal with health issues.
Research shows a more rapid reduction in the symptoms of many diseases when animals are included in the therapeutic process. The therapy is used in the treatment of people afflicted with depression, schizophrenia, phobias and addiction problems. It can also help physically and sexually abused children and veterans with a post-traumatic disorder. Animals are also used in the treatment of cardiovascular diseases, dementia, Alzheimer’s, cerebral paralysis in children, rheumatoid arthritis, AIDS, etc. The method has been found very useful in non-medical settings like community programmes to help people deal with anxiety and stress.
Most commonly used animals are dogs that show unconditional and constant love. But, cats and other animals also facilitate therapy. For example, psychologist Fine, who works with troubled children, uses a cockatoo and even a bearded dragon named Tweedle. “One thing that’s always been known is that animals help a clinician go under the radar of a child’s consciousness because in such situations children are much more at ease and willing to reveal,” he says.
In India, pet therapy is still very much in its fledgeling stage in spite of the Blue Cross introducing it in Chennai in 1996 to help autistic children. In 2001, Dr Dog too was started in collaboration with Animals Asia Foundation with an aim to increase the scope and reach of this deeply promising new field. The purpose of Dr Dog ambassador is to promote animal welfare through people welfare and pioneering the right of animals to be treated with respect and compassion.
“Horses are mostly used in therapies for disabled people,” says Breeanna Bornhorst, executive director of the Northern Virginia Therapeutic Riding Program. They are also used in autism therapy which helps children achieve greater engagement, alertness, balance, language and processing skills. Animals also reinforce rehabilitative behaviours in patients, such as throwing a ball or walking.
The only concern of pet therapy is safety and sanitation. Facilities that use pet therapy have stringent rules to ensure that animals are clean, vaccinated and well-trained.
The writer is an animal activist and member of PFA, Thiruvananthapuram...