Pet Therapy

written by Dóchas

Whether it’s a cat or a dog, a rabbit or a gerbil, a parrot or even a piglet that has stolen your heart, it may not surprise you to hear that your four legged friend can be a HUGE asset to your recovery!

The therapeutic effects of owning a pet have received quite a lot of attention in the media and among researches in recent years – particularly those in relation to Dogs. It has been scientifically proven that a dog fulfils the most basic human need to touch. The companionship of a dog can help to calm and soothe us, ease anxiety and boost our mood. Stroking, holding and fussing over a canine friend helps reduce our sense of isolation and loneliness. Recent studies have also proven that canine companionship brings a number of health benefits too, such as lower blood pressure, lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels, as well as increased production of serotonin and dopamine. Young and old, fit and frail, alert and impaired, all of us can benefit from the presence of a dog.

I became a volunteer Pet Therapist with my beautiful Golden Retriever Beau two years ago. With my own Nana in a Nursing Home, I was always taken back by the effect Beau had on her and the other residents in the home when I’d bring her with me to visit. Their faces would light up when she bounded through the door. People and pets connect. The comfort and companionship she provided the patients with was phenomenal. We’d sit and chat as they petted Beau and brushed her, telling stories of dogs they themselves had growing up. It wasn’t until one of the care staff commented on the lasting impression Beau’s visits were having on the patients that I realised she had gift we could share more extensively with the wider community. And that’s when we discovered Irish Therapy Dogs.

With ITD, approved and registered Volunteer Visiting Teams (Owners and their Dogs) devote one hour each week visiting their assigned Care Centres  nationwide. Once they arrive, they discreetly circulate amongst the residents, including those who are bed-ridden or confined to their rooms.  When a therapy dog enters a room you can watch everyone’s eyes light up. People smile. They might call to the dog and hold out their hand. The dog is a welcome visitor, bringing with it warmth and a gift for listening. At the same time a dog expects nothing in return.  This interaction is a powerful thing to witness. You can stand back and simply watch as the positive energy fills the room.

The same can be experienced at home. Only at home, it’s YOU who gets to reap the rewards. Let your pet work their magic! Animals, particularly dogs, have a remarkable understanding of the human condition. They can sense our insecurities, our sadness, our excitement and our joy. They know how we are feeling at any given time of the day and they listen to us, without judgement. Accept all snuggles. Reach out and give them a belly rub. Brush them. Nourish them. Roll around the grass with them. You don’t need to be signed up to an organization like ITD to reap the benefits of pet therapy – you just need to be open to it and to embrace your fluffy friend like he’s the greatest gift on earth. Because he is.

Yes Beau and I continue to visit Nana and Co. in the Nursing Home as often as we can and Beau continues to enrich the lives of those she meets. But not before I get my cuddles in first!