Small Horse, BIG IMPACT!
The sight of Lily, a miniature Appaloosa, trotting through a pediatric ward is an undeniably cheerful distraction for young patients and their families. Lily and her handler are members of Tufts Paws for People, an affiliate of the national Pet Partners therapy animal organization. Therapy animals like Lily are specially trained to interact appropriately with people of all ages and abilities, participating in treatment plans for specific patients (animal-assisted therapy) or simply socializing in a less structured way (animal-assisted activities). In contrast to service animals, therapy animals do not have special access privileges unless they are expressly invited by a facility.
The body of evidence in favor of incorporating animal-assisted activities and therapy into healthcare, educational, and even prison settings is rapidly growing. Positive human-animal interactions have been shown to increase oxytocin and endorphins and decrease blood pressure in people as well as dogs. The fact that therapy animals were also positively affected by these interactions is a significant one, as it addresses animal welfare concerns for the stress levels of the animals involved.1,
The proper precautions
Inviting animals into human facilities requires taking the proper precautions. Concerns including allergies, bites/scratches, and the spread of zoonotic disease and parasites can be managed through adhering to safety and training protocols. Tufts Paws for People enforces strict grooming requirements, requires completion of an 8-hour handler training workshop, prohibits raw feeding, re-evaluates teams every two years,and more. These precautions are essential to ensuring that everyone stays safe and healthy so that therapy animals like Lily will continue to be welcomed into hospitals to bring joy where it is needed.
 Odendaal et al 2003. Neurophysical correlates of affiliative behaviour between humans and dogs, Vet J Vol 165(3) pg 296-301.
 Koda et al 2015. Stress levels in dogs, and its recognition by their handlers, during animal-assisted therapy in a prison, Animal Welfare Vol 24 pg 203-209.
 Brodie et al 2002. An exploration of the potential risks associated with using pet therapy in healthcare settings, J Clin Nurs Vol 11(4) pg 444-56.
 Rajewski, Genevieve 2014. Animals as healers, Tufts Veterinary Medicine web magazine. http://now.tufts.edu/articles/animals-healers
May 22, 2017
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