|Dogs are a man's best friend – is a saying which has stayed with us from time immemorial.
Today, it has emerged with greater significance than ever before. C ompanion animals, commonly called pets, have been seen as pleasant trivia of our human existence.
Little was reported about their effects on our health until a study by the University of Maryland , from 1977 to 1979, showed some dramatic statistics linking pet ownership to a reduced risk of heart disease and an increased survival rate for heart patients.
The University of Maryland study opened the doors for the scientific community and health care providers to explore the benefits we receive from animals.
Today, the use of dogs who help the sick and elderly is called pet facilitated therapy or animal assisted activities. Research shows its applications to be vast and quite limitless. .
Pet facilitated therapy can be used alone or as a catalyst enabling other traditional therapies to work more effectively. PFT programs can be found in diverse settings including prisons, mental health units, nursing homes, residential treatment centers, hospitals, and schools.
However the study of dogs who help the sick and elderly is not really a new concept, despite the current and intense interest in the subject.
One of the earliest uses of animals for therapy was recorded in 1792. The York Retreat in England , founded by the Society of Friends, used animals to enhance the humanity of the emotionally ill. It was believed patients could learn self control by having creatures dependent on them. The revolutionary program brought vast improvements to the institutional settings that today are still beneficial.
How do other pets or dogs help the sick and the elderly?
Studies show that animals can open doors and touch people's lives in ways humans can't. They are not substitutes for human relationships, but can serve to benefit the emotional and physical health of a wide range of people, more when they are sick and elderly.
Studies show pets can:
- reduce stress
- lower blood pressure
- decrease the risk of heart disease
Focusing on a pet can:
- relieve pain
- relieve feelings of isolation or depression
- alleviate the doldrums of institutional living
Pets give us a sense of purpose, providing us the ability to nurture. To love and be loved is the most basic of human needs.
Animals make us smile and laugh. They also encourage us to move, whether it is reaching out to touch and snuggle or run and play.
One of the best ways the sick and the elderly benefit from dog companionship are because, companion animals are unconditional and non-judgmental. Regardless of our physical condition, they offer uncomplicated affection in the form of a lick, nudge, purr or tail wag to help improve our self esteem. Dogs provide the much needed touching so often missing in institutional settings.