I’m the type of person that goes to a party and finds out there’s a dog in the house and I immediately ignore everyone else and go straight to the dog.
Dogs have that effect on me, they make me feel happy. I’d guess I’m following at least 20 different dog related profiles on Instagram. Beyond the fact that they’re cute and cuddly and they make me speak in a really weird high-pitched voice, there’s something about the fact that there is science-based information that shows the effects animals can have on a human’s recovery and coping processes.
According to a Mayo Clinic article, pet therapy is a broad term pertaining to animal-assisted therapy and animal-assisted activities. The effects of animal-assisted therapy have been proven to help people recover and/or cope with health conditions, such as mental health disorders, heart disease, and cancer. Animal-assisted activities tend to have a more general purpose to bring happiness and comfort to the surrounding environment. Animal-assisted therapy and activity increases social interaction and movement, through walking and play. If it promotes movement, we’re all about it here at Able.
My partner and I recently got a dog. We both work in the disability space and aside from wanting a dog as the perfect addition to our family, we’ve seen how animals can have positive impacts on mood. We decided to go through the facility dog certification process, and it wasn’t until we started doing our research that I came across animal-assisted interventions (AAI) and the evidence behind it.
The Autism CRC website provides an overview of their report, Interventions for children on the autism spectrum: A synthesis of research evidence where they discuss how AAI is thought to support the development of children with Autism. The verdict is still out there on just how big of an impact AAI has, but there is a clear positioning that it benefits psychological and physical health in children with autism. Another example, (Prothmann A., Ettrich C., Prothmann S. (2009). Preference of, and responsiveness to people, dogs and objects in children with autism) research showed children with autism interacted for longer periods of time and more frequently with a real dog compared to a person or an object.
We’re not trying to create athletes here at Able, we’re here to promote movement and well-being. As a support worker, I think it’s incredibly important that I do what I can to influence my participants to make their own decisions about movement, i.e., going for a walk or playing basketball instead of sitting in front of the TV or deciding to cook a healthy meal instead of a drive-thru fast-food meal. Able isn’t the be all end all of promoting movement and we don’t claim to be. What we strive for is to educate people with disabilities, their families, and their support network on what options are out there to keep them moving and healthy. If pet therapy is an option for you or your participant and it encourages them to get out and move AND it improves their mental health, then I’d say it’s probably worth looking into.
– Tyler Murphy, Director Of Care