Have you ever noticed that just being around your beloved pets can make you feel happy inside? Do you get the warm fuzzies every time you see pictures of cute kittens on the Internet, or a feel-good video of a dog loving their human? It’s no secret; the presence of animals in our lives can have significant powers over both our physical and mental health.
In fact, these “powers” can make such a difference in people’s lives that animals are commonly used in therapeutic practice! Animal-assisted therapy aims to improve a patient’s cognitive, social or emotional functioning. Animals can be particularly motivating, less threatening and help to improve compatibility between a patient and their surroundings.
Many different types of animals can be used in animal-assisted therapy. Hippotherapy and therapeutic horseback riding both involve the use of horses, and is common for occupational therapy or patients with special needs. Dolphin therapy also is a growing practice which allows patients to swim with dolphins! Unfortunately, we don’t have any horses or dolphins here at HSNEGA, but we do have many cats and dogs!
Feline-assisted therapy is rising in popularity, especially in medical facilities and nursing homes. Research has shown that petting or snuggling with a feline companion can help lower blood pressure and stress levels. Being around these kitten companions triggers a release of the hormone oxytocin, which leaves us with feelings of happiness and reduced anxiety.
Canine-assisted therapy is likely the most common form of animal-assisted therapy. The unconditional love of therapy dogs helps to increase self-esteem, physical activity and reduce loneliness. Canine therapy first became introduced clinically in the 1970’s, and programs have become very popular in children’s hospitals particularly. Adolescents respond very well to canine therapy, thanks to the hands-on approach and trust that dogs provide, but almost anyone can reap the benefits of some puppy love!
Outside of a medical setting, it is not uncommon for animals to be used in other therapeutic ways. UC Berkeley, for example, offers “free pet hugs” on the first Tuesday of the month for their students. Many colleges have similar initiatives, teaming up with local humane societies during their finals weeks. Similarly, business offices will sometimes team up with local rescues to sponsor some adoptable cats and dogs for a day. Uber did this earlier this year, and had great results; office employees experienced a morale boost and more puppies were adopted!
It isn’t uncommon for the administrative staff of HSNEGA to be caught getting some extra pet therapy time, either. Working around all these great cats and dogs provides the perfect go-to stress relief! Our staff isn’t the only ones to reap the benefits of pet play time, though, because HSNEGA also happens to have a pet therapy program! Currently, we reach out to local nursing homes, schools and community outreach programs, but are always looking to expand our scope.
If you are interested in becoming a Pet Therapy volunteer for HSNEGA, or your group or organization becoming affiliated with the HSNEGA Pet Therapy program, please email our Community Relations Director, Samantha Threadgill, at SThreadgill@HSNEGA.org or see the volunteer info on our website for more information.
Written by Bridget Bott, HSNEGA Communications Intern