February 17, 2021
What are therapy pets and are they safe? This is a question that many may be asking when they first hear about this type of program. They are found in schools, nursing facilities, hospitals, prisons, private homes and anywhere the love and presence of a pet would provide support. What are your concerns about therapy pets?
Therapy Pets Are Not Service Animals
These two terms are not interchangeable. Service animals are trained for a specific person for specific needs such as blindness, deafness, mental disability, illness and the like. This animal (usually a dog) stays with the individual at all times and are provided certain protections under the law.
Therapy pets, or animal-assisted therapy pets, are there for emotional support, as an adjunct to therapy sessions. They are good for elderly persons, autistic individuals, those suffering from PTSD, cancer patients, mental health patients, children and others. Pet therapy can improve confidence and social interactions, decrease anxiety, and increase teamwork and fine motor skills.
What to Ask When Thinking about Pet Therapy
There are many benefits to using these services. They may have been suggested to you before. Here are common questions and their answers.
1. What happens during pet therapy?
This depends on the setting. In most cases the therapist will supervise as the pet and his handler (usually his owner) are introduced to the patient and parameters of the meet are established. With most animals (not fish of course), there will be contact through direct care as well as petting and cuddling.
2. What are the risks of pet therapy?
There are very few risks, if any. Facilities screen the pet/handler teams to meet their criteria. When working with big animals like horses, participants wear helmets and other protective gear. Interactions are monitored to make sure that there is no injury to either party.
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3. How do you prepare for pet therapy?
The particulars of the specific program you are participating in will be explained to you at the outset even before you agree to it. The first meeting is a bit apprehensive until the pet and the patient become accustomed to each other.
4. What type of animals are used?
This depends on the therapeutic needs of the patient. Common animals are dogs, cats, horses, rabbits, birds and guinea pigs. Some organizations won’t certify what they consider to be “exotic animals.” That includes snakes, lizards and ferrets.
5. Does this therapy actually help?
Research is still ongoing, but pets have been used for therapeutic purpose for hundreds of years. People with pets are more likely to live past a medical incident like a heart attack than those without a pet. The calming effects of pets decreases stress and anxiety just by being around them.
6. Where can I find a therapy dog or other pet?
Local organizations exist in just about every area. You can Google nationally known organizations and look for local chapters in your area. If you are asking for someone in a hospital or nursing facility, speak with the staff to find out if they offer such a program.
Get the information and the answers you need about pet therapy.