Pet therapy and the cognitive benefits of owning pets is something that has touched my life in many ways. Being an animal welfare/pre-vet student and a veterinary assistant, the human-animal relationship encompasses the majority of my professional life; however, perhaps more importantly, pet therapy has changed the life of my grandmother following a stroke. While her motor skills were completely restored, she was constantly wrought with anxiety and depression until my grandfather suggested that they adopt a puppy.
Enter Molly, the West Highland Terrier, who would completely reshape my grandmother’s mental health for the better. Whether it was having something to care for other than herself or simply her affection for the puppy, my grandmother took control of Molly’s care: she started walking, smiling and laughing again, socializing with friends, and feeling less anxious about her health.
My grandmother is among many elderly people who have benefited from exposure to animals. Studies on lonesome, mentally ill, and physically ill people have all been relatively conclusive: exposure to animals improves people’s outlook on life and improves their cognitive well-being. In the case of the use of therapy animals on joint pain, it even reduced the amount of pain medication required by patients. It isn’t necessary for the patient to own the pet: regular visits from registered therapy dogs, puppies, kittens, and shelter cats have all proven therapeutic in various situations.
Recently, animal therapy has been implemented in many situations outside of the ill and elderly. It has been used to help treat people of all ages following traumatic events such as school shootings or dealing with the stress of school exams. The following video discusses the use of therapy dogs for students following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.
PTSD therapy dogs are also becoming popular among soldiers with the disorder. The following commercial describes how these dogs assist PTSD sufferers.
Why do we find animals so therapeutic? How can bumbling little puppies have such a drastic effect on our health? Experts believe it may boil down to the nature of our relationships with animals. Because of our inherent sociability as a species, we thrive on the social benefits of owning a pet. It has be found that pet ownership and interaction with animals is associated with positive feelings and reduced anxiety. Pet ownership has even been observed to increase the life of people who own pets compared to people who don’t.
While she is just a dog living a simple life, Molly has changed my grandmother’s life for the better- no doubt she has increase her lifespan significantly. I will always be grateful to that silly white dog for what she has brought to my family.