7 March 10
By Reverend Paul N. Papas II
Patting your pet has been proven to be good for your health. With so many warning labels on food, medicines, and your hot cup of coffee isn’t it nice to have a natural way to nurture yourself.
Researchers are finding that pets truly have the power to heal their owners, especially the elderly. The most serious disease for older people is not cancer or heart disease, but loneliness.
Too often, people who live alone or are suddenly widowed, die of broken hearts. Love is the most important medicine and pets are one of nature’s best sources of affection. Pets relax and calm. They take the human mind 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.
Patients in hospitals and nursing homes who have regular visits from pets – whether their own or those brought in from various agencies – are more receptive to medical treatment and nourishment. Animals give the patient the will to live and in nursing homes, the medical staff is often surprised to see residents suddenly “become alive.” Animals have a calming effect on humans and benefit mental well-being, especially with children and the elderly.
In recent years, the experts have been relying on pet therapy as a valuable aid in reaching out to the elderly, the in-firmed, and to ill or abused children throughout the country. Therapy animals go to convalescent homes, hospitals, day care centers, juvenile halls, and prisons. These animals are trained to be calm, gentle and well-mannered, especially around rambunctious children. There are no breed requirements. In fact, many therapy animals are mixed breeds. They come in all sizes and shapes. Cats and small dogs are good because they can be lifted easily and fit even on the smallest laps. A large dog makes a good companion for someone in a wheelchair, sitting patiently and allowing the occupant to stroke his fur.
Most importantly is that the therapy cats and dogs have a calm, gentle personality and are people-oriented. They must love attention and being petted and not be shy. In addition, they need basic obedience training and should be conditioned to not be frightened by sudden noises. They provide an invaluable service to those who are lonely, abandoned, or ill; indeed, anyone who needs the miraculous healing that can arise from a hug and a gentle touch.
Children, especially those who are abused or neglected, are able to communicate with animals. A pet offers a safe place for a child with emotional problems. They give unconditional love, providing a security blanket. A dog, cat, ferret or parrot can be the bond that glues a family together when upheaval, such as moving, death or divorce, occurs. Often, an animal can reach a child beyond an adult’s touch.
We were designed to have fellowship with each other, to love and be loved. Sometimes circumstances have become barriers to one of our basic needs, to love and be loved.
The innocence of animals and their ability to love unconditionally makes animals special. Human beings want to be part of their world, to connect with them in a mysterious and powerful way that will strengthen and nurture both humans and animals.
_ Pets help Alzheimer’s patients by bringing them back to the present. Specially trained pups can also help alert others that an Alzheimer’s patient has wandered into harm’s way. “Pets can provide a measure of safety to people with the disease,” says Thomas Kirk, a vice president of a chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association.
_ Children who suffer from attention deficit disorder (ADD) are able to focus on a pet, which helps them learn to concentrate.
_ Patients who happen to have a medical condition of a mental illness, or those with emotional problems, share a common bond when a cat or dog enters the room. Instead of reacting negatively to one another, the cat or dog boosts morale and fosters a positive environment.
_ Pets are an antidote to depression. Life in a care facility can be boring. A visit from a therapy cat or dog breaks the daily routine and stimulates interest in the world outside.
_ Pets provide social interaction. In a health care facility, people come out of their rooms to socialize with the animals and with each other.
_ Everyone has the need to touch. Many humans are uncomfortable hugging or touching strangers, even those close to them. Some people are alone and have no hands to hold, no bodies to hug. But rubbing the fur of a cat or dog can provide a stimulation that they sorely lack. The nonverbal connection is invaluable in the healing process.
_ Pets are a source of expectation, hope and communication. Looking forward to a social call or getting home after time away gives that spark of anticipation all humans need to help feel alive. Pets can help start a conversation, and help one who is struggling against unusual difficulties in learning to speak for the first time or after a speech impairment such as a stroke.
Pets have proven to be very helpful in helping victims of abuse or sexual assault to heal as well.
Professionals in the field of pet-assisted therapy find that in addition to cats and dogs, fish, pot-bellied pigs, birds, reptiles, rabbits, guinea pigs, goats, horses and llamas are also valuable healers. They have also found pets lower blood pressure and stress levels, give the patient a reason to interact, offer a chance to exercise and a sense of security and/or intimacy, allow communication, and offer continuity in life.
Studies report that children who live in homes in which a pet is considered a member of the family are more empathetic than children in homes without pets. As children get older, their ability to empathize with animals will carry over into their experiences with people.
Finding the right pet for you to fit your circumstances including your ability to properly care for them is the key. In return for proper care your pet will unconditionally love you. The bond you will build with your pet will be very rewarding.
Reverend Paul N. Papas II is Pastoral Counselor with Narrow Path Ministries (AZ and MA) http://www.narrowpathministries.org and Founder of the Family Renewal Center http://www.familyrenewalcenteraz.org