Animals and Healing
Animals have developed some pretty incredible methods for healing themselves. Think about lizards and starfish, these animals can regrow their entire limbs! That’s a pretty extreme example of animal healing, but in what ways can animals help humans to heal?
Humans get sick and injured all the time, just like other animals, both physically and mentally. Traumatic events, loneliness, addiction, developmental issues, and many other things can have severe effects on someone’s health and well being. Animal assisted therapy, or zootherapy, is an increasingly utilized form of coping and healing for people. Using animals in therapy is beneficial because they often encourage activity and social interactions, offer unconditional love and reassurance, and have a contagious love for life. So while healing the mind and body after a traumatic event, or illness, can be extremely difficult, animals can help us in more ways than one!
Companion animals, commonly known as pets, are significant examples of zootherapy. Simply petting a dog has been scientifically proven to reduce blood pressure and improve the functioning of the immune system in humans. This can make an incredible difference in the lives of suffering people. The integration of pets into the daily lives of people has proved beneficial in places like hospitals, nursing homes, schools, and disaster areas. Therapy dogs are trained and certified companions that interact well with people and other animals, providing a sense of security, love, and happiness for those in stressful situations and environments. Therapy Dogs International is a volunteer organization that helps regulate, test, and register therapy dogs, and their handlers. The handlers then volunteer to take their dogs to places where they can interact with those who need it the most. It seems that having some extra furry friends running around can have incredibly positive impacts on people healing their minds and bodies, but dogs are not the only animals out there doing good deeds for humans!
Chickens are an animal that most wouldn’t expect to be very beneficial, but these lovable birds are helping humans heal right now! Henpower is a program developed by Equal Arts, in the UK, that uses chickens to increase the health and wellbeing of residents in older adult care homes. Depression and loneliness are debilitating afflictions that sometimes occur in the lives of many people. Chickens are proving themselves to be fantastic companions for people suffering from these issues. Over 40 care homes have adopted the Henpower program and so far the results are notable. Residents of the home are tasked with raising and caring for the chickens, giving them a good reason to come together over shared activities. They even take the chickens out of the homes to schools and public gatherings, sharing their experiences with other people. Turns out these feathery companions may be a powerful tool for fighting depression and loneliness among people of all ages.
Organizations like Therapy Dogs International are great programs that can help strengthen the bond between you and your dog, while simultaneously providing help to those that could use some extra love in their life. If you have a dog that fits the profile of a therapy dog, consider getting them and yourself certified by an organization like Therapy Dogs International.
If you know anyone who may be suffering from depression or loneliness, consider whether they may benefit from having some sort of animal companion to care for. Be sure to discuss this possibility instead of spontaneously getting a pet for someone. The amount of specific care and responsibility varies from animal to animal. It is important to match these things with the abilities and lifestyles of the people who will be caring for the animals. But it might just be the medicine they need to heal, and live a happier, healthier life.
Sources: National Geographic, Equal Arts, Therapy Dogs International, Douglas Mental Health University Institute