Pet Therapy

Oct 1, 2010

First of all, you may be wondering, what is pet therapy, or animal-assisted therapy?  It is any kind of therapy that includes the addition of a pet to further facilitate healing.  There are many, many organizations that include pets as part of the therapy team such as hospitals, youth centers, and nursing homes, and most of them work with agencies that certify the animals such as Therapy Dogs International, the Equine Assisted Growth And Learning Association (EAGALA), and the Delta Society to name a few.

The field of pets as therapists is really expanding, for example dogs can be trained to smell cancer and other forms of tumors and recently Psychiatric Service Dog Society, a newly formed organization to focus specifically on how dogs can support the mental health of humans, has worked with dogs trained to alert their owners to hypomanic episodes (the symptom experienced by people with bipolar illness that is the opposite of the depression and can have serious consequences).

Studies have been done to show that interaction with a pet can alleviate anxiety, increase survival rates for heart attack victims, reduce blood pressure, and increase self-esteem (I read this in Marc Bekoff’s, The Emotional Lives of Animals, but these studies are widely available).

As you have likely experienced, there is a lot happening in the field of interaction, or “Space” as I discussed in my last blog, between you and the animal, and in my opinion there are probably lots of connections occurring between the right-brains (that part of the brain that processes nonverbal communication among others things) of each.

However, one of the ways I think the interaction can be most beautifully described is in the words of Martin Buber:

“The eyes of an animal have the capacity of a great language.  Independent, without any need of the assistance of sounds and gestures, most eloquent when they rest entirely in their glance, they express the mystery in its natural captivity, that is, in the anxiety of becoming.  This state of the mystery is known only to the animal, which alone can open it up to us – for this state can only be opened up and not revealed.” (I and Thou, 1923)

What amazing creatures, these beings who have endless love for us, and actually prefer to socialize and where possible support the health of their human counterparts.  If I really stop to think (and feel) how much compassion, and selfless and unconditional love that pets show, it brings tears to my eyes.

And, it also makes me realize that we, as humans, have a responsibility here too.  Pets will give and give and give, and I think that dynamic asks of us to ensure we care for them, and protect them, and love them in return.  In other words, as our culture starts to ask more and more of pets in the form of aiding to human health, we have an responsibility, no I’ll suggest an obligation, to understand and pay attention to the effects this has on them both individually and as a species.  We cannot treat them as commodities in our pursuit of health, we must relate to them in ways that allow us to see them as uniquely individual beings and not simply as but one more means to our personal safety and security.  And I think this means facing that “anxiety of becoming” as Buber suggested and moving into a new relationship with animals where we see ourselves not as their masters, but as their friends.

How about you?  What do you think of pet therapy, and how do you think those pets who do therapy feel about it?

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3 Responses so far | Have Your Say!

  1. Tom jordan
    January 19th, 2011 at 1:13 am #

    Speaking of space songs, listen to \A Man and a Woman\ by U2… with the chorus of \I could never understand, the mysterious distance, between a man and a woman.\

  2. Tom jordan
    January 19th, 2011 at 1:14 am #

    Ahh, I think my previous comment hit the wrong post, oh well!

  3. Brenda
    January 28th, 2011 at 2:30 am #

    If I knew how to move it, I would; but I think it is fine in “the space” it is! I will listen to the song. Nice to hear from you & thanks so much for commenting!