Critter Companionship Therapy


Apr 27, 2012 | Programming & Outreach

While some people rescue animals in an attempt to offer their new friends a safe and “forever” home, it is usually left unnoticed that those pets often do a lot of the rescuing – in our lives.

“The human-animal bond bypasses the intellect and goes straight to the heart and emotions and nurtures us in ways that nothing else can,” said Karin Winegar, author of Saved: Rescued Animals and the Lives They Transform, in a 2009 interview with the New York Times.

The acceptance of companion animals and even visits from therapy dogs has become more and more welcomed throughout retirement communities nationwide, and despite the fact that many scientists think additional research is required, those participating in the pet therapy are already convinced. 

“We’ve seen this from coast to coast, whether it’s disabled children at a riding center in California or a nursing home in Minnesota, where a woman with Alzheimer’s could not recognize her husband but she could recognize their beloved dog,” Winegar says.

In the past, studies have been conducted to test the roles animals played in the lives of their masters or patients visited, to determine if they really do have the ‘ability’ to heal. A study at the UCLA Medical Center shared that results showed a 24% drop in anxiety level in patients who had suffered from heart failure that were visited by a volunteer with a dog, a whopping 14% higher than those that did not participate in the pet therapy.   

Lynette Hard, PhD, associate professor at the University of California at Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, shares, “Studies have shown that Alzheimer’s patients have fewer anxious outbursts if there is an animal in the home.”

In addition to helping with anxiety, the article sheds light onto the fact that owning or frequently visiting with a pet can help lower blood pressure, boost immunity, keep depression at bay and provide a great social opportunity.

By allowing animals to welcome senior living communities as their new homes, canines and felines alike are continuing to support their senior owners through, what for many can be, a difficult transition. Companion animals offer their humans comfort, familiarity and a fantastic ice-breaker for meeting new neighbors when entering a retirement community.

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