Animal assisted therapy, Ireland. Photo by Donkey Sanctuary Press Images
Keeping a cat or a dog is one of the single most effective and efficient ways to preserve one's health. This is born out in many studies. Although, it has to be said that there is a need for further studies to make more concrete the benefits of animal interaction. However simple practical experiences support this over and over again.
We are bombarded with ways to keep healthy. The usual method is an improvement in diet and exercise. However, keeping a cat has far wider ranging health benefits than simply improving one's diet. And it all happens effortlessly and naturally in a hidden way.
Interactions with animals help to achieve improvements in lifespan after a heart attack, lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels, decrease blood pressure, decrease stress, increase activity levels, reduce your drug (medicine) taking, reduce doctor appointments, alleviate a feeling of loneliness, increase motivation, create a sense of well-being and increase your chances of socialisation, help create a structure and purpose to the day for retired people….phew..not bad.
The medical profession recognise pet health benefits in the treatment of hospital patients and particularly the rehabilitation of military vets. Children and senior citizens are two groups of people who have been shown to benefit from animals that facilitate therapy.
You'll like this video (the organisation is listed below):
Animal Assisted Therapy AAT
The health benefits to us from interacting with animals has been recognised for a long time. One of the first, perhaps the first, use of animals as part of treatment was in 1792 in England. Animals were part of a treatment programme for mental patients at the York Retreat. Small domestic animals were kept within the grounds and patients interacted with them. The objective was to reduce the use of drugs and restraints. In 1860 the Bethlem Hospital followed suit with the intention of boosting the morale of patients.
In the USA it is thought that the first use of animals for therapy was in St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Washington, D. C. in 1919. Then at an Army Air Corps Convalescent Hospital at Pawling, New York (1944-45).
The treatment of military vets is particularly relevant today (March 2012) with the war (crazy war) in Afghanistan and the earlier war in Iraq. There are many thousands of military vets who suffer from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Estimates are that up to 20% of vets suffer from PTSD. Doctors are prescribing companion animals are a form of treatment in addition to, or perhaps instead of, drugs. This is an enlightened approach.
Another enlightened approach to rehoming unwanted dogs is to place rescue cats and dogs with military vets who can benefit from the relationship. It's a win win situation. We should thank an organisation called Pets for Vets for that. The founder of Pets for Vets is Clarissa Black. Here is a nice video about her work:
Employment prospects in assisted therapy are good it seems. That would seem to support the efficacy of the process. Although I found it hard to find specific courses and career paths. I think it is the kind of job that would suit many people.
(1) The health benefits of pets. NIH Technology Assess Statement Online 1987 Sep 10-11.