Therapy Through Companionship
Imagine coming home after a long and tiring day, and at your door waits a faithful companion who wants to shower you with unconditional love and affection. They don’t care what kind of job you have, how you look in the morning, what kind of car you drive and they don’t make you put the toilet seat down. For many, coming home to a loving pet is an incredible bond that can have many benefits.
There are many aspects in a person’s life that pets can have a positive influence on. For example, according to DeltaSociety.org, which is an organization devoted to promoting the human-animal bond, there are many health benefits associated with being a pet owner.
‘Research has shown that pets have a number of health benefits including lower blood pressure, reduced cholesterol, [and helping] help individuals cope with stress and decrease feelings of loneliness,’ said Michelle Coby, research coordinator for the Delta Society.
Coby also explained that the reason people have shown such positive responses to animals is the unconditional way they support their owners.
‘People have a positive reaction to pets because they are non-judgmental and accept you just as you are. Pets are not concerned with how much money you make, what you look like or if you have made mistakes in your life,’ Coby said.
The company and companionship that a pet provides has proven itself to be beneficial, but there are also many other ways pets can have a positive influence on human lives.
One of these ways is in the therapy sector. Throughout the nation there are many programs that use pet-facilitated therapy to visit sick children in hospitals, senior citizens in convalescent homes or other facilities so they could have the opportunity to benefit from the positive presence of animals.
According to the Los Angeles Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the advantages of animal-assisted therapy includes reduced loneliness, diversion from pain and boredom, comfort of touch, decreased anxiety, exercise and recreation and the ability to escape from the isolated and rigid life of a hospital or nursing home.
The Delta Society also points out other ways people can benefit from animal-assisted therapy or animal-assisted activities. These benefits include unconditional acceptance, enhanced nurturing skills, mental stimulation and a mutual trust or bond with the animal.
One local program that uses the positive stimuli of animals is sponsored by the Orange County SPCA and called PAWS, or Pets are Wonderful Support. The program assists in bringing a different kind of therapy to the sick or disabled residents of hospitals and nursing homes.
According to Pat Guiver of the Orange County SPCA, the PAWS program provides people with an opportunity to help with a meaningful cause.
‘People get involved in our organization because they want to help animals, and in our pet-assisted therapy programs because they enjoy sharing a worthwhile activity with their dogs,’ Guiver said.
While animal-assisted therapy can have many benefits, there are some who truly can’t function in everyday life without their animals and need constant assistance from them. These kinds of animals or service animals are trained to perform tasks for their owners that the owners cannot do on their own because of a disability.
These tasks include things like opening doors, alerting them to sounds, helping them walk and other tasks that directly help a person’s disability.
While service animals are not considered pets, their presence obviously still makes a great impact on the disabled. Everyday tasks that a person was not able to do before getting a service animal become possible.
For example, someone who is confined to a wheelchair can have their animal retrieve things he or she has dropped or reach things that he or she could not normally reach.
According to the Delta Society, a 1995 study conducted by Dr. Karen Allen showed that people who had service dogs scored higher in areas such as psychological well-being and self-esteem.
By law, people who require service animals are able to have access to public places like movie theaters, restaurants and other public buildings.
The positive influences that a pet can have is not only for the sick or disabled, however. Students and regular pet owners can benefit from just having a pet around.
According to second-year biological sciences major Cesar Aranguri, having dogs provided him with something other than video games and television.
‘When you’re younger they teach you responsibility,’ Aranguri said. ‘Especially if your parents encourage you to feed them or take them for walks. It’s a lot different than playing a video game or watching TV all day long.’
Aranguri said that one of the reasons people are so drawn to animals is because of their loyalty.
‘A dog will never leave you or tell you it has better things to do or ditch you for other friends. It’s comforting to know that you have a friend to be with,’ Aranguri said.
For some, the advantages of having a pet differs from the kind of interaction they encounter with human beings. While a human being can break up with you, shove you in a crowd, demand straight A’s or just be plain mean, a pet is a nice relief from the human world.
According to first-year undecided/undeclared major James Miguel and his experiences, this difference between how a pet treats you compared to humans is one of the reasons pets make such good companions.
‘Pets are a lot different than humans,’ Miguel said. ‘You really can’t have much drama with your dog. You can’t argue with your dog. Your dog is just your friend and that’s it,’ Miguel said.
Despite the species difference, people find a kind of relationship with animals who become, plain and simple, good companions.
‘The extent of the relationship they hold seems to transcend the fact that one is a human and one is a dog,’ Aranguri said.
While dogs are one of the more common pets used for animal-assisted therapy or service animals, according to Guiver, dogs might not be for everyone.
‘We advise against getting a pet if people are gone all day. Dogs, particularly can become lonely, destructiveor a barking nuisance if deprived of companionship,’ Guiver said.
For students, a dog might not be the best choice if living in a small apartment. Some other alternaives that provide just as much companionship are fish, reptiles, rodents or birds.