Pets are important members of our lives. Every day, they entertain us and enhance our daily activities. Walking through the front door becomes synonymous with the jingle of a collar, wet kisses, a bark or a purr, while eating at the dinner table progresses into a daily begging session involving hungry whines and the secret sharing of unwanted scraps.
Although these familiar occurrences may seem like the ordinary interactions between a pet and its owner, these unique experiences help serve a higher purpose. Our pets enable us to view life in a different way, and we learn to depend on them to lift our gloomy moods and contribute to our happiness.
Professionals have become aware of this connection, which is why Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT) has become prevalent today as another method in helping patients treat their emotional and physical problems.
Millersville freshman Briana Becker, who is the former owner of two Welsh Corgis named Tucker and Gordi, agrees that pets contribute to our sense of happiness. “I think pet therapy is a good idea. Whenever I am around puppies they are always able to relieve my stress,” she said. Although Becker has never specifically participated in pet therapy, she believes it is a great way to relax.
Therapy involving animals has been around for quite a while. Animals and their ability to bond with people have been acknowledged for therapy use dating back to the late 17th century; and even Sigmund Freud allowed his chow Jofi to sit in during psychoanalysis sessions with patients to make them feel more comfortable.
According to James A. Serpell’s article “Animal Companions and Human Well-Being: An Historical Exploration of the Value of Human-Animal Relationships,” the first reported use of pet therapy occurred in England at the York Retreat which opened in 1796 and was started by a man named William Tuke.
At the time, the York Retreat embodied more modern ideas and allowed patients to meander in the courtyards and gardens where small domestic animals roamed. Despite Tuke’s model of using animals for better mental health, the practice of using animals would be abandoned until the late 20th century.
Thankfully, today AAT is widely used for various reasons and is recognized for its benefits. The American Humane Society says that therapy involving animals has been shown to help children who have experienced abuse, patients undergoing chemotherapy or other treatments and families who have enlisted in military service.
A non-profit volunteer organization, Paws for People, describes some of the benefits of this kind of therapy. Physical health benefits include experiencing lower blood pressure and better cardiovascular health, feeling less physical pain and feeling a sense of relaxation which occurs while petting an animal and may result in a person needing less medication.
Some mental health benefits include fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety, an increase in feelings of comfort, the ability to socialize as well as inspiring motivation for patients to recover faster.
If you are interested in the benefits of AAT, stop by the SMC Atrium during finals week Monday through Friday from noon to 6 p.m. Several dogs will be around during this time, and some of the breeds that will be there include a Labrador retriever, sheltie, boxer and a beagle mix.