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Animal Assisted Therapy

Animal Assisted Therapy

By Mark Hale DVM--Bolivar, MO


            By tapping into the therapeutic power of pets, animal-assisted therapy (AAT) spreads happiness and healing to deserving individuals.

            What is AAT? AAT provides physical rehabilitation, emotional comfort, and other benefits to people in a variety of environments. Many AAT animals accompany a trained therapist; however, programs are also available for pet owners looking to participate with their pets. According to HealthyPet Magazine, some volunteer options might include:

1)      Counseling- Troubled or introverted patients may establish a therapeutic bond with visiting animals.

2)      Hospital visits- patients benefit from the morale boost of animal visitors.

3)      Nursing home/hospice therapy- By providing a regular source of pleasure and affection, pets may improve the quality and duration of elderly or ailing patients' lives.

4)      Physical therapy- Activities such as grooming or walking animals.

5)      Reading programs- Children can overcome learning or reading disabilities by reading aloud to animals.

The most important quality that a pet volunteer should possess is an even temperament. Anxious, shy, or excitable animals can do more harm than good and overly friendly pets can overwhelm older or disabled patients. Pets and owners must be able to commit to ongoing service. AAT relies on establishing a human-animal bond, which may take several weeks or months of regular visits.

Most programs will require a training aptitude of some form. Examples might include the ability to:

1)      Accept petting from strangers

2)      Come, sit, lie down, and stay on command

3)      Tolerate handling by multiple people calmly.

4)      Walk calmly through a crowd

Pets will also need to be healthy and free of any potentially contagious diseases. Routine checkups, monthly flea/tick and internal parasite prevention, and appropriate vaccinations must be performed. Many of these patients have a compromised immune systems, so strict policies should be adhered to for their protection. Problems such as fleas, ticks, or ringworm, which might be only a nuisance to us, could be a serious health problem in a health care facility.

Interested pet owners should contact their local hospital, rehabilitation facility, or nursing home for more information about specific programs.