April 2016: Service / Therapy Animals

therapy Dog

Dogs (and other animals) that have been trained to provide affection and comfort to people in hospitals, retirement and nursing homes, mental institutions, schools and stressful situations (such as disaster areas) have been increasingly in demand. Healthcare professionals have long documented the therapeutic effect of animal companionship through the years, including relieving stress, lowering blood pressure and raising spirits. Dogs have been used with great success to help children overcome speech disorders, emotional stress and physical disabilities.

For those of us who love dogs (and other pets), it’s enough that our dogs greet us when we come home each day as if we are all that matter to them (and we pretty much are!). But there are real scientific benefits to owning pets.

  • The Research Center for Human/Animal Interaction at the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine has shown that interacting with animals can increase people’s level of the hormone oxytocin. This hormone makes us feel “happy and trusting”. Over the long term, oxytocin helps our body to be in a state of readiness to heal and to grow new cells, “predisposing our bodies…to be in a healthier state.”
  • According to Science Daily, the American Heart Association says research shows that pet ownership is probably associated with a reduction in heart disease risk factors. Dog ownership, in particular, may help to reduce cardiovascular risk since people with dogs may engage in more physical activity since they walk their dogs regularly.
  • Since the 1970s, research has shown that owning pets most likely lowers blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and creates a lower incidence of obesity.
  • Science Daily has also pointed out that pets can have a positive effect on the body’s reaction to stress.
  • Florida State University has a pilot program underway to test whether exercising with dogs yields better health outcomes. The results won’t be known for some time, but researchers have noted that more people, particularly seniors, are coming to the university to exercise with the dogs.
  • Horses are quite often used as therapy animals. The Northern Virginia Therapeutic Riding Program reports that some riders benefit “from the connection and the relationship building with the horse and their environment.” Others may derive benefits from the physical demands of riding a horse, and it “helps them build core strength, body awareness and muscle memory.”
  • There are a few programs providing dogs to military veterans. One has military vets returning from Iraq and Afghanistan helping to train shelter dogs. This program is “helping the veterans to readjust to being at home” and makes the dogs more adoptable since they have basic obedience skills.

Neads Dogs

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