Therapy Through Your Pet?
Pet therapy is based on the idea that the presence of an animal is a calming element in the life of a patient with a disability or a serious medical condition.
Florence Nightingale, an instigator of many modern day care techniques and practices, kept a turtle in her service during the Crimean War because she had observed that the presence of an animal reduced the anxiety of wounded a soldier. More recently, an American psychotherapist observed the comforting influence of his dog on one of his autistic patients and was able to clearly validate the psychotherapy facilitated by the animal.
Anglo-Saxon countries and provinces make extensive use of these approaches, despite the absence of cohort studies, which are necessary for objective validation. Pet therapy, which includes all types of animal therapy, remains controversial even in the countries where it is used. Specialists such as Nadine Gourkow have been able to find traces of happiness that derives from the ownership of pets. The worst critics of this theory accuse it of posing a health risk to patients and endangering animals for an effect that robots might be sufficient to obtain. Other, more moderate specialists, recognize an effect solely related to the placebo effect or to an increased socialization by the simple event of the presentation to an animal. Without factual scientific data, the use of these methods remains a question of conviction and personal experience and preference of the individual at hand.
The most common use of animals in medical practices would usually be around the elderly. Many associations bring dogs or even cats to retirement homes or palliative care services with the sole purpose of encouraging elderly people to leave their room, their silence and to become more interactive with other elderly people and with the pets that surround them. Patients play with the animals, wonder about their lifestyle, and discuss these visits long after they leave. The animals thus act on the morale of the patients but also on their health by forcing them to move more.
Many general practitioners also recommend that their retired patients adopt a dog to encourage them to maintain regular physical activity. For those who are isolated, the animal gives a reason to get up, to think about the need to feed and go out to be in contact with other dog walkers. In France, specialists speak more readily of animal mediation, recognizing the role of the animal rather as an intermediary of care or a factor of improvement of the quality of life. Thus, guide dogs can not cure blindness, but they can facilitate many daily tasks, thus reducing the weight of the handicap.
Other types of dogs can assist patients with motor disabilities by turning on the light, opening the fridge or finding the remote that fell under the sofa! Finally, the use of horses to mobilize children usually immobilized in a wheelchair can bring a smile to their faces. Those that usually go with them in order to assist them whiles on the ride also cannot help but to feel happy and at peace knowing that they are making the day special for another human being.