I work in a hospital, and I often see therapy dogs in the halls and patient rooms. Our facility, like many others, has implemented the therapy dog programs. And until you have seen these amazing dogs in action, you have no idea of the benefits of this program. I have a friend who purchased a beautiful pup last winter, with the express purpose of having her trained to be a therapy dog. She felt God was calling her to this venture, and her dog, who is her pride and joy, has gone through the training, and will soon begin her visits to patients.
Many nursing homes are allowing pet visitation as well. When my grandmother was temporarily in a nursing home several years ago, she told us how she missed Cuddles, her little dog. He was her constant companion, and she wanted him. We asked the administration if we could arrange a visit for Grandma and Cuddles, even if we had to take her to the car in a wheelchair. We were surprised to be told if he was up to date with his immunizations, and was flea and tick free, then he was welcome inside the nursing home. For the few months Grandma was a patient there, we took Cuddles twice a month to visit. Grandma was happier, and Cuddles was too. We saw many animals visiting there after that, some that were pets of the patients, and some who were actual therapy dogs and cats.
Many horseback riding facilities now offer therapy horses. Programs for developmentally disabled children and adults are common. These gentle and well-trained horses assist them both physically and mentally. They foster trust, as the rider is usually wary of such a big animal. Once they ride them, and get to know them, a bond is formed between horse and rider. And over time they become more confident, and are more easily able to enjoy relationships with others.
Many riding facilities cater to children and adults who have physical disabilities, and some work with children and adults with anger and dissociative disorders. The reports are quite encouraging regarding the success of these programs. Physicians and therapists have widely accepted animal therapy as a proven aid to traditional medical disciplines.
Many people consider animals to have no real worth. Tell that to a sick child who experiences joy simply by a dog licking his face till he is laughing. And there is pleasure and peace in the face of the elderly patient who has a cat curled up on the bed beside her, purring while the patient strokes her back. And just watch the face of a developmentally disabled child sitting on the back of a horse for the first time, as she sees the horse look back at her with true acceptance in its eyes.
Animal therapy works. God created these animals and the professionals have learned how to harness and use their various gifts. Yes, I did say gifts. Because God is love, and He uses therapy animals to show His love.
‘Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.’ James 1:17 (NIV)