Benefits of animal therapy
Today, the human-animal bond is stronger than ever with many people adopting a new member of the family during COVID-19, to provide extra emotional support and companionship at home. Animals can break down social barriers, reduce stress and promote feelings of happiness.
It’s no wonder then that animal-assisted therapies have been around for a long time, ever since the ancient Greeks began using horses to lift the spirits of people who were ill. Even Dr Sigmund Freud, founder of psychoanalysis, believed that dogs in particular had a calming effect on people and would regularly use his dog, Jo-Fi, in his clinical practice.
The most common animals used these days for therapy are dogs, however, horses, cats, rabbits, and farm animals are also used. Some of the main benefits of animal therapy include:
- Reducing stress
- Increasing feelings of happiness
- Reducing blood pressure and anxiety
- Breaking down social barriers
- Providing companionship and friendship
- Greater empathy and wellbeing
- Increasing confidence and self-esteem
Achieve Australia’s Day Program Coordinator at Llandilo, Nikki Jones, knows first-hand the benefits of animal therapy, since she introduced these regular activities in her programs with clients. “Animal therapy has a calming effect and also assists with our connection to the natural environment. It can also reduce pain, anxiety, depression and fatigue,” says Nikki.
Before COVID, clients visited Bushbreed and Golden Ridge Animal Farms, Calmsley Hill City Farm and Featherdale Wildlife Park on a regular basis.
“I’ve noticed that when a person has behaviours or seems very anxious, and they get to spend time with the animals, it makes people feel content and happy,” says Nikki. “Clients will cuddle, kiss and talk to the animals, which is lovely to see.”
Sharon Stewart is the Founder and CEO of Paws Pet Therapy and has seen similar experiences. As a Registered Nurse, with a background in both disability and mental health, Sharon is passionate about sharing the benefits of animal therapy with the community.
The not-for-profit organisation trains local volunteers and their dogs as a team. The pair then attend visits at local disability and aged care providers, public and private hospitals, mental health centres and schools.
“We currently have 120 active volunteers and provide all the training, equipment and uniforms needed to provide a professional pet therapy service for our clients,” explains Sharon.
“For many of our clients, the experience with the dogs provides non-judgemental, unconditional love, and it can really brighten someone’s day. You can see people light up when they see the dogs and volunteers walk in.”
As part of the volunteer program, there are also opportunities for people with intellectual disability to undergo training and take part with a support person. “For our volunteers who have a disability, they love to be able to give back and it increases their confidence and self-esteem. The dog acts as a link to break down any social barriers, too,” says Sharon.
If you don’t have access to animal therapy or a pet, Sharon’s advice is to seek out a friend who does, and take a visit to pamper them with walks, pats, brushes, and most of all love. You are sure to see some of the benefits of animal therapy, too.
For more information about the Paws Pet Therapy Program, visit pawspettherapy.com