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Has Therapy Gone to the Dogs?


One of my favorite moments of the day comes when I arrive home - work still on my mind, stress of daily life weighing on my shoulders - and I walk down the street to get the mail. It isn’t just the action of walking down the road that has become so enjoyable and peaceful. It’s the fact that when I open the house door, Lucy (our fur-baby) bounds out – wagging her tail, “smiling” at me, and leads me on my short journey of self-care. To the mailbox.

Although the companionship of a pet is nothing new, the research of animals used in therapy is. There is a steady and ongoing push for more in-depth study.

Dr. Leslie Stewart of Idaho state university lead a study last year that found 60 percent of students reported a decrease in symptoms of anxiety during exams while participating in a program with canine interaction. Closer to home, Simon Fraser University’s health and counselling services along with Pacific Assistance Dogs Society (PADS) have become proactive in offering puppy therapy days to assist with students stress levels as the semester winds down.

Final exam stress isn’t the only thing that animal therapy assists in. Although animal therapy has been ongoing in hospital recovery on a regular basis, studies have also been showing that pets can have a positive impact on anxiety, depression, PTSD, and many other mental health issues. Some studies have involved a wide variety of issues including Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia, developmental disabilities, and Down’s syndrome - All producing beneficial results.

Pet owners are quick to point out other advantages of having a pet such as uncomplicated love, encouragement of activity, providing companionship, teaching responsibility, establishing routine, and simple, yet effective, therapeutic touch. Dogs, cats, horses, ferrets, hamsters....the list goes on.

Of course, owning a pet is not always easy. Pets need attention, and require time and energy. To learn more about owning a pet, visit your local SPCA, talk to a veterinarian, ask other pet owners what to expect. You might just begin to enjoy your walk to the mailbox.

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