Animal assisted therapy (or pet therapy) – what is it and how can it help? These are the usual questions – let’s see if we can explore them.
What is it? Animal assisted therapy is the use of animals in order to give therapeutic results – using animals to make people feel better.
Animals have a magical quality to them – they make us laugh; they make us cry; they help us to relax; they help reinforce our self esteem. Animals love without condition, an animal is attached to you because you love it, you feed it, you make sure it’s healthy, you return what it gives to you.
They make you feel good about yourself because they make you smile! Their love is unconditional, their judgement non-existent – they don’t care if you look different, or you act differently, or you’ve done something socially unacceptable, all they care about is that they get your attention.
Right now as I am typing this, I have a skunk crawling all over my laptop (that’s right – a SKUNK). Am I annoyed, am I batting it out of the way?? No, I am actually smiling and feeling good about the fact that I am lucky enough to be interacting with a skunk for one, but also she is making me smile and that makes me feel happy and healthy.
This is how pet therapy works. There have been many scientific and medical papers written about the hormone that is released when you interact with animals and the scientific effects, but I can give you a practical view. You see I do this on an almost daily basis with secure psychiatric patients, 'problem' children, those with terminal illnesses. I do this in individual sessions and in group sessions. I actually SEE the results!
Okay, the science has to be there for it to work, and the hormones need to be released – the scientific part though is guaranteed and the effects are truly beautiful. I have seen normally verbally and physically abusive and aggressive patients, become loving and caring individuals because of a tortoise! People who have never spoken to their carers, suddenly speak for the first time because they are cuddling a skunk. Patients who have never left the comfort of their room, will ONLY go out when there is a rabbit in town. People inherently LOVE animals – especially furry ones! A lot though love the not so cute ones. For example, we have patients who only want to spend time with snakes.
The effect of animals is gradual, and therefore the therapy needs to be regular and continuous, for it to have a lasting effect. I have personally proven that regular contact with animals changes people, in personality, mind set and attitude – those who witness these changes, see something in the people that they work with that they have never seen before. Suddenly they find something in the person that they can work with – they find a way to help the psychiatric patients; the troubled child suddenly becomes softer, less troubled; the terminal patient has something to give them comfort; the elderly feel better, almost younger.
Whatever the animal and whatever the situation, animals work to make people feel better – all you have to do is open your mind, and give it some time and it can work for EVERYONE.
Critterish Allsorts undertake animal assisted therapy sessions, with their critters (who are all family pets), on an individual or group basis in your home, hospital, care home, foster home, or school. Visit their website for more information.This blog is written by Dale Preece-Kelly from Critterish Allsorts, if you would like to find out more about them check out our previous article 'Meet the Critterish Allsorts'.