Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Prescription Pet : Animals As Therapy

I would like to introduce Ash Stevens, who has written a guest blog.  I think after you read it, you will understand why I hope she will write another guest blog again soon!

All pet owners know about the magic of animals. They effortlessly boost our mood, get us laughing and smiling, and shift us into a happier place. Such benefits have some rather profound implications. So much so, that professionals have developed Animal-Assisted Therapies, exposing people everywhere to their hairy power.

Photo by USAG-Humphreys

Dogs love being the center of attention, and they’re all too eager to return the favor. Their undivided, pleasant, critique-free attention makes them the perfect reading buddy that’s the envy of reading specialists everywhere. 

Dogs give our kids a fun and relaxed excuse to read, but there’s more to it than silky petting. This furry fortitude is bringing big changes in the classroom. Dogs are helping our children’s confidence and motivation climb to new heights, and their reading level is climbing along with it. Students are creating new and positive relationships with reading, and those benefits are spreading to school and home.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a very common and overwhelming problem for Veterans. The intensity of situations experienced on duty coupled with a return to mundane civilian life can make everyday a struggle, so canine nature is being put to the test in addressing issues, and they’ve only solidified their standing as loyal companions.

A program by Central Missouri Humane Society trains dogs to sense and accommodate the needs and anxieties of soldiers-turned-civilians. The pooches are a powerful aid to their owners, and even their Veteran trainers are benefiting too. These shelter dogs get a new life while, in turn, they give trainers a feeling of purpose in their dulled-down civilian lives. The dogs help trainers develop patience, trust, and emotional connection and, to top it all off, soldiers have a loyal friend that will never judge them. It’s win-win all around.   

Disease can have many physical symptoms that challenge everyday life. Emotional and mental issues often come up with health stress, and that deepens the impact of our ailments even more. Animals have been used against these problems with the hopes of recreating health trends among pet owners, and their hairy presence is proving to be an effective “natural remedy” for overall health.
When it comes to healing, pets are man’s best friend. Petting and cuddling our furry pals promotes the production of the hormone oxytocin, so the happier we make our animals, the happier we actually make ourselves. All our scratching and snuggling can actually boost emotional and mental health! But the benefits don’t stop there. The presence of pets provides a welcome distraction that can reduce pain, depression, and negative thinking, and that mood-boosting oxytocin even promotes cell growth and healing. So, it turns out it’s an apple and a furry hug a day that keeps the doctor away...

Autism Spectrum Disorders include a wide array of symptoms, with social and communication challenges at their core. It can be hard for our Autistic children to interact with others because of the need to “read” the subtle nonverbal messages used in communication. Luckily, that’s where Equine Therapy comes in.

Horses are nonverbal and sensitive to their environment, and that gives kids the chance to learn very important skills. Getting to know your horse takes physical communication like brushing, petting and hugging. As kids watch, touch, and listen to their horse, they start to see common cues that communicate their horse’s feelings and state of mind. This is huge because, as kids develop awareness and recognition with their horse, they can begin using these new skills with their social interactions. Better understanding means less frustration and better relationships, so the benefits here can’t be overstated. 

Photo by Kars4Kids

Attention, listening, and focus are also addressed by Equine Therapy. Listening to a horse requires “tuning in,” so kids learn how to give their complete attention. Equine Therapists will also do activities that require children to listen and take direction, and the fun and motivation of working with a horse helps this happen easily and naturally. When all’s said and done, horse-assisted therapy offers children a strong emotional bond that helps them make sense of the world around them.

Dogs are another therapeutic approach for Autism, and the studies show promising results. Kids are showing drops in aggression, increases in social engagement, and a boost in overall mood and well-being. That’s just with their mere presence! Dogs or horses, there’s amazing potential for children living with Autism.

Get Your Pet On!
Our animals are doing amazing things for people from all walks of life. Whether you’re facing some problems or you’re “healthy as a horse,” an animal may just be what the doctor ordered. Get a dose of animal love by volunteering at the shelter, finding a hypoallergenic Craigslist dog, or grabbing a landlord-appeasing guinea pig or bunny. We can all benefit from having a little more hair in our life.

Happy petting everyone!

      Ash Stevens

Ash is a lover of family, animals, and life. Connect with her on Twitter and Facebook or check out her blog where she explores fun, simplicity, originality, and meaning.