Deseret News - Animals and their humans have been comforting and loving each other for ages, the bond nearly magical, say experts who use that connection to help frail or disadvantaged populations.
Wags for Hope in Frederick, Md., boosts literacy by having children read to dogs. Washington-based Pet Partners has registered more than 11,000 people and their pets in 50 states and 13 countries to provide therapy in hospitals, hospice, special education programs, nursing homes and elsewhere.
"People open up," said Phil Arkow, an instructor specializing in animal-assisted therapy for Harcum College in PA and Camden County College in NJ. "Animals have a unique ability to break through the barriers that people put up... You know that when you've seen somebody who hasn't spoken in years suddenly talk to a pet. People have a need to nurture, a need to express compassion, a need to connect with the natural world. Under the right circumstances, animals can do that amazingly well."
The Waltham Book of Human-Animal Interactions presented a study showing that women in nursing homes would rather play with a rabbit for an hour than have time to do whatever they want. A study in Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found pet ownership by the elderly increases activity and ability to handle stress and lowers blood pressure.
Therapy programs often use animals in work with children with disabilities. "An animal doesn't see a disability. It doesn't see that you're having a bad day or coming out of a stressful therapy treatment. It just wants someone to love and pet it. I once had a man in hospice tell me, 'Everyone visiting me looks at me like I'm dying. Your dog looks at me like I'm living.'"
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Written by Lois M. Collins
Image via Wags for Hope