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Pet Therapy: A New Healing Concept
by Dr. Anjana Maitra

The man-animal bond has existed since time immemorial and has always been a beautiful one. Keeping a pet is a wonderful and rewarding experience and has many advantages. The most common animals kept as pets include dogs, cats, birds and fish. However many people keep unusual pets like tigers, bears, snakes, guinea pigs, tortoises, monkeys and lizards. Pets have always enjoyed a special place in the lives of human beings.



Pet Therapy

It is well known that human beings care naturally. We bloom and thrive when we have others to love and look after. Usually these are our family members and friends, but animals are easily included in our group of intimates. We have to look after our pets and when we are troubled, we often turn to them for comfort and re-assurance. Because of our affection for them, animals have often been used to help us with healing. In ancient times it is said if people felt in danger of going insane, they would carry dogs around with them. Pet therapy is a recognized method of treatment the world over, more so in developed countries.

Training for children

Keeping pets is a wonderful training process for children. When a pet is kept in the house, children are automatically attracted towards it. What is more, they can be taught to take proper care of the pet. Older children can take the dog for a walk, clean the bird’s cage or aquarium, take the pet to the vet and so on. Younger children can play with the pet and teach it simple tricks or make it obey commands. By caring for pets children learn to take up a responsibility. They also develop the habit of nurturing which will stand them in good stead later in their life. They must be involved in the pet-care routine and see that the pets have food, exercise and a proper place to live, so that they can be happy and healthy.

A Great Relationship

A pet represents different things to different people. For many a pet is a friend, for others it is a child and for some it is a sibling. It is a relationship that is built on love and mutual dependence. According to psychiatrists pets help people to fill a certain void in their lives. Many childless couples keep pets to shower their love and affection. Many couples who prefer not to have children keep a pet instead. According to psychologists almost all human beings have the need to nurture which is why couples have children. When this need cannot be fulfilled with a child of their own, they turn to pets. An only child who is lonely looks upon the pet as a sibling and shares everything with it.

Uses

Apart from companionship, pets have various uses. Dogs guard the house and property and trained dogs help the blind and the disabled. Dogs also hunt and herd cattle and sheep. Dogs are used to find land mines and dead bodies in combat zones or areas affected by natural calamities. Cats are useful in catching rats and mice. Cats have also predicted earthquakes and natural disasters and alerted owners to dangers. Certain birds fill the air with their delightful songs while a talkative parrot or myna livens up the atmosphere. Fish swimming lazily in the aquarium soothes our nerves. Research has shown that complex, varied and interesting activity is the strongest social predictor of longevity. Pet ownership may affect people physiologically by the soothing effect of touch and speechless communication with a pet.

Boon for the Elderly

Research has shown that keeping pets is good for one’s health. Pets are a favorite among the elderly. In fact, research has proven that pet therapy works wonders for their mind and body. Many older people live by themselves and many more live away from family and friends. Isolation is one of the worst downfalls of getting older in society. That is when a pet works wonders. Pets make the elderly feel wanted and capable of nurturing. It makes their life more fulfilling. Moreover it gives them a much-needed companionship. Pet owners may feel needed and responsible which may stimulate the survival incentive. They feel the need to survive to take care of their pets. Love is the most important medicine and pets are one of nature’s best sources of affection. They take our minds off loneliness, grief, pain and fear. They cause laughter and offer a sense of security and protection. They encourage exercise and broaden the circle of one’s acquaintances.

Pets as Stress Busters

Pets have proved to be great stress busters. Gazing at fish swimming lazily in the aquarium soothes one’s nerves and reduces stress. The physical contact of petting an animal is relaxing and studies have shown that it helps lower blood pressure. According to doctors, this is because pet owners are more active, whether they are taking the dog for a walk or just changing the litter box, than those who don’t own pets. Caring for an animal helps reduce stress.

Coming home from a hard day and stressful day of work and being greeted enthusiastically by your pet dog immediately makes your stress vanish and uplifts your mood. The uproarious welcome , friendly licks and naughty antics of the dog makes you forget all your office worries as you turn your attention to the dog and pet it. Stroking a dog, watching a kitten tumble or observing the hypnotic exploration of fish can be an antidote to a foul mood or a frazzling day.

Pets as Healers

Research has shown that heart attack victims who have pets live longer. Even watching a tank full of fish may lower blood pressure at least temporarily. A study of 92 patients hospitalized in coronary care units for angina or heart attack found that those who owned pets were more likely to be alive a year later than those who did not. The study found that only 6% of patients who owned pets died within a year compared with 28% of those who did not own pets.

The therapeutic use of pets as companions has gained increasing attention in recent years for a wide variety of patients – of AIDS, cancer, the elderly and the mentally ill. Unlike people with whom our interactions may be quite complex and unpredictable, animals provide a constant source of comfort and focus for attention. Animals bring out our nurturing instinct. They make us feel; safe and unconditionally accepted. We can just be ourselves with the pet. Studies have shown that pet ownership can reduce stress-induced symptoms, require less medical care and add years to your life. Pets such as dogs and cats provide unconditional non-judgmental love and affection and pets can shift our narrow focus beyond ourselves, helping us to feel connected to a larger world.      

Images under license with Gettyimages.com

27-Aug-2006
 
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