Dogs & Cats Graphic 2015

The recent barbaric acts in Paris have touched us all in some way or another. Among the many killed was a young Cal State Long Beach student. 

Our safety and security are being threatened. Emotions understandably run high. Anger, sadness, fear and depression are normal reactions to such unimaginable horror. Some may have difficulty coping with these emotions. 

We can be thankful that Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT) can help those in need. According to the Mayo Clinic, AAT can significantly reduce pain, anxiety, depression and fatigue in people with a wide range of health problems. AAT is a growing field that uses dogs and other animals to help people recover from and cope with health problems, such as post-traumatic stress disorder. It is now common for pets to be given to soldiers returning from battle to help with anxiety and stress. 

A study by the National Institute of Health measured clinical outcomes of animal-assisted therapy. They measured changes in medication usage as a result of a therapy dog residing in the rehabilitation facility. It was found that pain medication usage decreased, and positive changes in the participant’s perception of their quality of life increased. The conclusion of the study was encouraging: The benefits to human welfare, as a result of the presence of a therapy dog, have the potential to decrease medication usage for certain conditions in long-term care patients.

Animal-Assisted Therapy is gaining popularity as an effective addition to modern health care, but it is not a new concept. As early as the Ninth Century, there is documentation of animals being given to handicapped people in Belgium. In the 1790s, the York Retreat in England revolutionized treatment of mentally ill individuals by replacing restraint and isolation with kindness and calming techniques. Animals were often used to calm patients. 

Sigmund Freud believed that dogs had a special sense that allowed them to judge a person’s character accurately. He had a Chow Chow named Jo-Fi that regularly attended his therapy sessions. 

It is said that the dog would pick up on a patient’s anxiety level and sit across the room if the patient was stressed.

Psychologist, Dr. Boris Levinson, discovered he could reach a disturbed and withdrawn child during a session when his dog was present. Levinson considered his dog as his co-therapist that could establish an atmosphere of trust. He presented his findings to the American Psychological Society convention in 1961. 

Pets are therapy. Most of us experience this every day when we come home from a hard day. Our pets are excited to greet us and give us unconditional love. 

This Thanksgiving, I will be thankful for my dog, Alejandro, and the pets that will help the victims and families of the Paris terrorist attack heal from their pain. 

Dr. Greg Perrault owns and operates Cats & Dogs Animal Hospital in Long Beach and is a commissioner on the Long Beach Board of Health & Human Services.

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