Easing the Way in Therapy With the Aid of an Animal
[Source: The New York Times]
We’ve all seen guide dogs that can direct blind people around obstacles and tell them when it is safe to cross the street. Perhaps you also know of guide dogs for the deaf, which can alert people to a ringing phone, a doorbell or a smoke alarm, or dogs that can warn people with epilepsy of an incipient seizure, giving them time to get to a safe place before they lose consciousness.
Dr. Marty Becker, veterinarian and author (with Danelle Morton) of “The Healing Power of Pets” (Hyperion, 2002), tells of a golden retriever named Dakota, who was able to warn his master, Mike Lingenfelter, that a heart attack was imminent and alert Mr. Lingenfelter to the need to leave a stressful situation and take preventive medication.
“This dog is leading me through life,” Mr. Lingenfelter told Dr. Becker. “All I’m doing is following the dog.”
In recent decades, there have been countless such stories of animals helping to improve and even preserve the lives of children and adults with all manner of diseases and disabilities. Trained dogs are being used to help keep children with autism safe and to break the “freeze” that can afflict people with Parkinson’s disease when they try to walk. And dogs, cats, bunnies and birds are often brought to schools and institutions, as well as to hospitals and nursing homes, where they help to relax and inspire residents and distract patients from their health problems.
But the use of animals to enhance health can go well beyond individual cases and group settings. A growing number of psychotherapists are using therapy animals to facilitate treatment, especially treatment of children with emotional, social and even physical problems.
Among the pioneers is Aubrey H. Fine, psychotherapist and professor at the California State Polytechnic University in Pomona, whose extensive successful use of therapy animals in treating children is documented in “The Handbook on Animal Assisted Therapy” (Elsevier/Academic Press, 2010).
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