As pet owners, we all know how comforting it is to come in after a long day at work and be greeted by an affectionate dog or to have the cat jump up into your lap. It relaxes us and makes us forget the everyday stresses and strains. One of the most stressful things which can happen is being admitted to hospital, and for patients who are in hospital for a long time, an innovative new charity is using pets as therapy.
Pet Therapy is nothing new, and has been used in hospitals in the UK since 1983. Volunteers started taking their own dogs into hospital to spend time with long-term patients who had been forced to give up their own dogs, and medical staff discovered the patients’ health improved, as did their communication. The science behind why we feel better after stroking cats or dogs is as yet unexplained, but there are now over 5,000 pets going into hospitals across the UK to help patients.
Not every pet is suitable for volunteering as a therapy dog. No particular breeds of cats or dogs are preferred, but the animal must be calm, happy to be petted and fussed over, and calm in unfamiliar situations. Volunteers take their pets into the hospital or residential home for a couple of hours every week, and spend time with the patients and staff. Children particularly benefit from having pets around, and staff have found that in severely depressed patients, pets can break down barriers far more easily than humans.