Pets as therapy, companions, joy-bringers, motivators, exercisers, soothers….
Pets as therapy, companions, joy-bringers, motivators, exercisers, soothers….
We can’t stress enough what a disproportionate impact it makes to patients to have contact with animals, including providing great opportunities for activity and conversation with their (human) visitors. For patients’ separated from their pets while in hospital, it’s really important that the animals are recognised as being essential in their caring circles and as much contact as possible is enabled whether on or off the ward, including through escorted and s17 leave. Of course, in the old days animals were very much a part of life in the asylums, from cats as pets to livestock on hospital farms. Being with animals is one of the best, and simplest ways of improving hospital experience for patients, staff and visitors, and lots of wards are finding creative ways around the obstacles. Although on acute wards the reality is that staff need to take on the extra work involved in caring for an animal, on longer-term wards the responsibility is shared with patients and this is seen as a valuable element in patients’ recovery and rehabilitation.
The most popular arrangements are staff bringing in their dogs for the day and linking up with the local Pets as Therapy group so that a volunteer and trained pet (usually a dog) visit regularly. Some wards have imaginatively got round the problem experienced by most wards of being on a waiting list for a PAT visitor for months or longer, by staff registering their own dogs with Pets as Therapy and bringing them in on that basis. A recent research study looked at the effects of Pets As Therapy visits on the mood state of people in nursing homes and attending day care centres. Results showed that even brief Pets As Therapy visits significantly improved mood state regardless of whether participants were in nursing homes or attending day care centres. There are a zillion (well, lots anyway) of research studies and books providing compelling evidence and moving examples of the disproportionate benefits that hospital patients experience from being with animals.
Our Top Ten Pet Points are:
- Pets are definitely allowed onto wards! The Care Quality Commission and the Department of Health have confirmed this, with the simple and important requirement that this fits in with Trust policy and with patients’ needs and care plans.
- The evidence base for the therapeutic benefits of contact with animals is huge and compelling.
- There are several excellent Trust policies on animals, listed in the resources section below eg N E Lincs Policy for Pets on Inpatient Mental Health Suites
- The State Hospital in Scotland, a high secure unit, is blessed with a Pet Therapy Centre. Brilliantly they’ve produced a beautiful, inspiring and practical guide to the therapeutic use of pets in mental health hospitals – Animals as Therapy in Mental Health.
- Contact with animals can be on the ward (with resident or visiting pets), off the ward but within the hospital (usually with animals in the garden or a mini-farm) or off site (eg patients helping out at local rescue centres or farms.)
- Pets can be as low-key and low-cost as a goldfish, or a major feature of ward life with a cat or dog. Small furry things (hamsters, guinea pigs) are a great compromise and patients, staff and visitors get much pleasure from caring for and playing with them.
- There are practical ways round the fact that some patients definitely won’t want contact with animals because of allergies, phobias, religious beliefs and other factors. The important thing is to plan for this – eg by having a pet shared between several wards so that if one ward can’t house the pet for a period, another one can.
- Although actual, real-life furry/finny/funny pets are the best, if that isn’t possible then there are all sorts of imaginative ways of including animals in ward life, from photos to soft toys.
- Conversely, animals can be used as a structured part of therapy, through Animal Assisted Therapy.
- For many of us, our pets are an integral part of our family so it really helps when this is recognised in care plans, home leave, visits and everyday conversation.
Patient’s own pets
- All patients are asked about their pets and the pet’s welfare on admission.
- Families can bring pets to the unit to visit.
- Family and carers are encouraged to bring pet into hospital grounds so that patient can still have contact with them.
- Visitors are encouraged to bring pets to the hospital, an example being that some relatives bring their pet dogs when they visit their relative.
Pets on ward
- Many wards have Pets as Therapy dogs visiting.
- Cats and guinea pigs currently top the list of wards’ own pets, with fish (unsurprisingly) the most common pet for patients to have with them.
- Fish in a sealed aquarium unit which staff will oversee.
- Garden designed to attract wild life – birds, bees, butterflies and the odd squirrel!
- Chickens are starting to be seen amidst the parsnips and petunias on hospital allotments.
- The Head of Therapies brings in her dog who the patients take for walks and practice training techniques. There is a hamster which plays an important role in enabling patients to regain their equilibrium. The patients have also started having horse riding lessons which has been very popular and a great mood lifter.
- A member of staff guide dog ‘’Tom’’ is a regular visitor to the ward.
- [Welcoming pets on wards is] not before time and would have a huge impact on our service users., we have our own, search/sniffer dog and she visits wards and service users when she’s not working also and has been used very successfully to help a gentleman who was extremely unwell mentally to go to the local hospital as he wouldn’t leave the PICU before and he travelled with the dog and she visited him in the general Hospital also!! We had tried everything to try and persuade him to go to hospital before that and she had the magic touch so to speak, I’m a huge fan of pets on wards.
- There’s a kennel in the ward garden, with a plaque for George Junior above the door. The eponymous part-time resident is a whopping Great Dane, ‘Pets as Therapy’ registered dog. His human is an OT and George Junior enjoys taking patients for runs around the garden and nearby.
- The hospital’s Pets Corner has three guinea pigs.
- Have a physio Assistant who brings her dog into the unit one day a week (it even has its own I.D. name badge on its collar), and she runs a long-established ‘dog walking’ group.
- Having a pre-training Guide Dog puppy. Great idea!
- One hospital is blessed with beautiful, extensive, wrap-around grounds, including steep banks which are difficult to mow, so they’re considering getting sheep!
- A hugely popular animals’ day was held, with visitors ranging from reptiles to rodents. Patients bravely and enjoyably cuddled even the slithery snake.
- We invited a falconer to the ward. He brought 5 birds with him. The patients were able to interact with the birds at close range, and were allowed to feed them and fly them from perches on their wrists. The photographs taken that day are prominently displayed on the ward. The patients were so delighted by this close encounter that the falconer has been invited to make a return visit in May.
- Visiting birds of prey – very popular.
Contact with animals off the ward
- Patients access the local dogs home for volunteer work and also to pet the animals.
- Supported visits to pets are arranged where possible.
- Patients visit the local city farm to help with animal care
- Horse-riding. This happens quite often in private sector hospitals but it’s worth checking if you have a local Riding for the Disabled group which could provide rides or other contact for some patients. Equine Assisted Therapy for people with mental illness is becoming increasingly well-established: A relationship developed with a horse can offer challenges to help overcome fears, build up trust, respect, compassion, develop communication skills, problem solving & coping techniques, self confidence and self esteem. These skills are transferrable to many other areas of ordinary day to day life.
- Falconry training takes place in grounds
- Patients have access to Local RSPCA dog-walking scheme.
- Occasional visits from keepers of reptiles/unusual pets
Animal related ideas
- A pets wall within the ward for staff or service users to put up pictures of their pets to create a discussion point and brighten up the ward!!
- A ‘virtual pets corner ‘ i.e. developing a pet photo display of patients’ and staffs’ pets and wards sponsoring an animal e.g. a retired donkey or a guide dog
- Occupational Therapy encourage the use of pet photographs, and encourage the sharing of pet stories and pictures within the recovery sessions. Photographs can be enlarged and placed on display boards, or placed within an individual’s Wellness Recovery Action plan ‘Box of Delights’.
The Word from the Ward
- “One of our porters brings her dogs to work. She leaves them in the car with the boot open and a safety mesh on and we get a group of patients and take the dogs for a walk around the grounds. It is good exercise for the patients and the dogs and it also helps bring the patients together. It’s also a good bonding session. It helps builds their confidence as we often notice that the quiet and slightly withdrawn patients will take charge of the dogs leads and this helps bring them out of themselves a bit. We also have a good chat and a laugh over who is going to be in charge of the poop scoop!”
- I made my dog a collar in the ward workshop. I achieved something and had something tangible that I felt proud of.
- My partner bought my dog in everyday and we would walk in the hospital grounds, this gave me a feeling of normality.
- There is something about the rhythm of stroking my dog when he comes to visit that just makes me breathe better and feel lighter.
- Pet therapy showed me I have a lot of love to give.
- A Labrador came to visit us quite often and we took it out for a walk. Pet therapy helps.
- I cried when we had a talk from the Dog’s Trust lady. But it was a relief to cry about something from the ‘real world’.
- The one thing I am good at is caring for my dogs. I needed to feel that whilst on the ward so I spent a lot of time remotely doing the same…making them things, having visits, checking up on their wellbeing.
- My mental health has always got in the way of having children. So my cats are my children. The staff understood this and at the earliest opportunity I got leave to visit them. I also received weekly postcards on how they were doing.
- I felt so lonely at night without my dog lying on my feet. So someone brought me in a large hot water bottle and we would fill it up and place it at the end of the bed. It tricked my brain at night that he was with me and allowed me to sleep.
- We had a pets and animal day. I love watching animals and wondering if they ever question their own sanity or if they are even aware of it.
- The ward lets my husband bring the dogs to ward garden’s fence and I and other patients stroke them.
- At one point a cat came to visit us each day. He came in through a bedroom window and we fed him and gave him a cuddle. The staff didn’t seem to mind.
The Dog Prescription
The Dog Prescription is a 10 point prescription style document based on extensive Dogs Trust research which outlines the ways in which dogs are good for humans.
Alex Ground Floor, South London and Maudsley, have a dog on the ward for two days per week all day. We formulated a risk assessment and discussed this with Health and Safety, Infection Control and our senior management before the go ahead. There have been no problems at all having Max on the ward, in fact he has been a complete success with everyone. He has motivated patients to exercise, he has also been a great source of conversation with patients and staff. Feedback from patients and carers has been nothing but positive. Patients have reported that their mood lifts when he is around and he also has a calming effect on the ward. I cannot encourage people enough to do this as it has untold benefits for patients. If anyone would like further info I would be happy to help.Amanda PithouseSouth London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust.
Sherwood House’s Tilly
Tilly the red-tailed kite is famous throughout Cambian Group hospitals. In her specially- constructed aviary she has been a part of life at Sherwood House for five years, since a patient with a love of birds brought her in from the community. Tilly has now been joined by two ducks and four chickens. The ducks were recently hatched from eggs incubated in hospital manager Nita Roper’s office and caused quite a stir among staff and patients.“Lots of patients were really interested in the eggs and everyone wanted to have a look at the newborns,” said therapy coordinator Laura Atherton. “Now they are in their pen outside and a lot of patients want to help feed and clean them.”
Peacocks and colleagues
We have for the past few years now we’ve had rabbits, guinea pigs, finches, cockatiels and peacocks and we have currently 4 rabbits and 8 guinea pigs. Patients take turns to clean out and feed etc.. We did consider having sugar gliders.. but I had to say no to any animals being housed inside the building due to concerns for allergy amongst the patient group, attracting mice etc if not cared for correctly. We did at one point have ferrets but they were not so friendly.. so I would not recommend them unless they are used to be being handled. Rabbits have been taken to other wards for holds and fuss etc, but again some patients can be sensitive to the fur.. so any engagement with the animals or birds, follows risk assessment and physical screen by the ward doctor.
Branwen Ward – Ty Llywelyn, North Wales NHS Trust
From Star Wards’ newsletter #49.5
The day room was light and airy; the big sliding doors were opened onto the garden and an enormous lawned area. One of the patients appeared carrying two oversized babies’ bottles filled with warm milk. I was invited to follow round to the other part of the garden where the ward’s two lambs, Alice and Bruce, were about to be bottle fed. I didn’t need to be told what effect taking care of these animals was having; I could see for myself the care and affection being lavished on them by the patients. I was given the chance to bottle feed one of the lambs myself so was able to experience that indeed pets as therapy really works – it was a really fantastic experience, that had me smiling and laughing as the lamb tugged eagerly on the bottle, not stopping to draw breath until it was completely empty.
One patient in particular has benefited greatly from taking care of the lambs while others had made the ‘hutch’ (not sure what you call an impressive wooden, straw lined ‘house’) for the lambs to sleep in. This was made in the unit’s workshop where patients can get hands on experience with many wood work projects. For those of you worried about what usually happens to Welsh lamb and what effect this might have– no need to worry, Bethan lives on a farm and is taking the lambs to live with her when they mature to full grown and next year the ward will become foster parents to another pair of orphans to hand rear.
A little note from Marion
Unfortunately there are loads of genuine, bureaucratic and plain stupid complications about getting pets onto wards. An astonishingly good substitute is the interactive toy dog from Furreal, Biscuit which Derbyshire are piloting on a ward for elderly patients.
I was astonished that stroking and cuddling Biscuit is such a similar experience to messing around with Buddy. He’s ridiculously lifelike, not just size-wise but by responding to voice commands, and spontaneously doing irresistible things like wagging his tail, putting his head to one side (more Princess Di than Buddy), whimpering (more Buddy than Di) and panting (we’ll leave it there.) Playing with Biscuit triggers ‘emotional memories’: warm feelings are evoked from our experiences and memories of being with other dogs. Become a Biscuit pioneer! Make your patients, visitors and colleagues very happy with a social and recreational purchase whose benefits are second only to the invaluable Wii. John Lewis are selling Biscuit for £75 which is a real bargain and something that League of Friends may be happy to pay for. (But! Biscuit takes 6 huge, D batteries, so rechargeable batteries and chargers are pretty essential.)
Marion talks to the BBC Breakfast team about Buddy
‘Bonnie and Clyde’
“Because of the positive effect the animals and wildlife had on everyone, it was decided we would look at different animals and, when put to the residents, they voted for….pigs! So we became home to two mini-pigs recently who the residents have named, ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ The residents helped prepare the area and house and are always very eager to go out and see these tame and friendly animals several times a day and feed them.”
Read more here.
Burghölzli’s therapeutic ward dogs
The Swiss Hospital Burghölzli became legendary as the place where the influential psycholiogist Eugen Bleuler coined the term ‘schizophrenia’ in 1908. (Extraordinarily, these symptoms were previously known as dementia praecox, from the Latin meaning prematurely out of one’s mind.) But we’re excited about this hospital because, fabulously, each ward has a specially trained therapeutic dog. This challenge the craziness that inflicts on mental health inpatient care, health and safety standards appropriate for post-operative wards. If the land that produces the world’s most glorious chocolates are happy about dogs on wards….
The Effects of Animal-Assisted Therapy on Anxiety Ratings of Hospitalized Psychiatric Patients
Doctors Barker and Dawson performed a study on the use of Animal Assisted Therapy in reducing anxiety levels of institutionalized patients. (Poor Dr Barker must have had to endure lots of very predictable remarks about her name in relation to this work.) They determined that anxiety levels were significantly reduced in patients with mood disorders and psychotic disorders after a session of AAT. In fact, for the patients with psychotic disorders, those who participated in AAT had twice the reduction in anxiety scores as those who participated in some other form of recreational activity. This suggests the low demands of human-animal interaction was effective for individuals with psychotic disorders as compared to traditional therapy.
Read more here.
Benefits of Animal Assisted Interventions
There are numerous benefits to incorporating pets into human therapeutic work and other interventions such as activity-assisted activities. These benefits can extend to the clients/service users, the person or volunteer who is the animal handler, the therapist and also to the animal.
Benefits to the client may include:
- Physical – eg an occupational therapist might include a dog in the treatment plan to work towards increasing a patient’s fine motor skills. One exercise might be bending down, holding a brush and brushing the dog’s coat. The dog helps to increase the patient’s enjoyment and thereby also increases motivation and effort in reaching treatment goals
- Psychological – animals can be included in mental health treatment plans to increase self-esteem and self-confidence; help with loss and grief and assist with the development of empathy. AAI can also enhance mood in stressful settings, eg one study reported that pet therapy significantly enhanced the mood of children in a paediatric hospital
- Social – animals can act as a social lubricant and help clients adjust to a new setting or unexpected change in circumstances by facilitating conversations and laughter.
Some Patients Petting Their Way To Improved Mental Health
A patient in a locked psychiatric ward is petting a rabbit. A dog offers his paw to a patient during a psychotherapy session. Another canine accompanies an individual experiencing panic attacks onto an airplane. Such scenarios are not as unusual as they once were, and a small but growing number of experts suggest that people with mental illness can make significant improvements by interacting with animals, according to Aaron Katcher, M.D., and Patricia Gonser, Ph.D.
Katcher, a psychiatrist, has examined the interaction between animals and people in dozens of scientific papers and book chapters. He is an emeritus professor of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania and a partner in Biophilia-In-Action, a consulting group providing animal-assisted therapy and other activities.
Gonser is a nurse practitioner and a community mental health care clinician. She also is an assistant professor of community mental health and nursing at the University of Southern Alabama. In addition, she is executive director of the not-for-profit Pets and People: Companions in Therapy and Service Inc., which offers training programs on animal-assisted therapy and animal-assisted activity. According to Katcher, people with psychiatric disorders can reap the benefits of interacting with animals in four ways.
First, many people with mental disorders enjoy the social and emotional benefits of having a pet. In fact, Katcher said, “psychiatrists should explore whether patients have pets and how they relate to them. And for those who don’t have a pet, psychiatrists should evaluate if the patient—especially one who is socially withdrawn—would be amenable to obtaining one.”
Second, in animal-assisted activities (AAA), trained volunteers and their pets visit with individuals or groups at prisons, nursing homes, psychiatric hospitals, and other locales. While the patients pet dogs, rabbits, pigs, or other pets, they discuss their experiences with animals, said Gonser.
Third, in animal-assisted therapy (AAT), therapists and trained volunteers who work under the direction of therapists use a variety of pets in therapy sessions to help patients meet specific treatment goals such as increased social interaction and decreased aggression.
“This is usually accomplished by using the animal as a Skinnerian reinforcer to motivate patients to reach specified goals or by taking advantage of the way animals favorably change the social dynamics between therapist and patient,” said Katcher.
Patients with poor communication skills are most likely to benefit from participating in these three modalities, since they find it easier to communicate with others in the presence of animals, he noted.
The last modality involves psychiatric service dogs, which are usually identified with a cape, tag, or harness. These dogs perform specific tasks that mitigate the negative effects of the person’s mental illness. For example, a psychiatric service dog might bring patients their medication or lead them to a safe place when they are having a panic attack, explained Gonser
Evidence of Benefits
According to Katcher, a few controlled clinical trials researching human-animal relationships have been published. Most of this research is on AAT, and it provides evidence for the following outcomes:
- Depressed patients had increased socialization and decreased depression.
- Children with severe ADHD and conduct disorder had decreased aggressive behavior and improved attention.
- Patients with autism or developmental disabilities had increased socialization and improved attention.
- Patients with Alzheimer’s disease had improved attention and decreased aggression and anger.
Besides these controlled studies, Katcher said, “clinical and anecdotal evidence suggests that many patients with dissociative disorders and agoraphobia who have companion animals have decreased anxiety and increased social competence.” These patients improved, he suggested, “Because [humans] evolved solving problems about animals; animals have the power to entrain our attention. And when we are around animals, we become more joyous, communicative, expressive, and calm.”
Not surprisingly, because of these outcomes and because of word-of-mouth referrals, these four modalities are becoming more widely used, with AAA being the most popular, said Gonser and Katcher. Currently, there are three journals and several national and international conferences on animal-human relationships. The professionals most interested in this field are social workers and psychologists. In fact, Katcher thinks he is the only psychiatrist attending these conferences and contributing journal articles. When asked why, he replied, “Psychiatry has become biologically based, less attuned to social environment. This is unfortunate because there is so much evidence that social support is a critical variable in the recovery from many serious biological disorders including psychiatric illnesses.”
Last September, Benedictine Hospital in Kingston, N.Y., began offering AAA and AAT on its locked 21-bed and 18-bed progressive mental health units. The program’s 10 volunteers completed a six-week program that trained them to work with inpatients having a wide variety of illness including psychiatric disorders, explained Carolyn Siewers, an occupational therapy assistant who manages the program, oversees the volunteers’ sessions, and conducts some of the AAA and AAT sessions.
In AAA and AAT, the patients pet, cuddle, and hold the dogs while they talk about pets. Also, the patient usually has the dog perform a trick and rewards the dog for it. In AAT, Siewers directs the conversation and patient’s behavior to meet specific goals. Thus, with the incorporation of these animals into therapy, most patients can learn and feel relaxed enough to meet and make small talk with a stranger, take directions, have appropriate eye contact, and develop other skills, said Siewers. “I know I’m doing animal-assisted therapy, and I am using the dog to work toward therapeutic goals,” she added, “but what seems to be important to the patients is that they get to pet and cuddle with a dog and [that] it feels so good.”
John Mitchell, M.D., the psychiatrist who works on the treatment team with Siewers, is very pleased with the program: “One of the biggest challenges [patients] face is relating to people to get their needs met. Many have difficulty communicating on all levels. . . . The dogs are a bridge to developing communication skills and confidence. . . . And they help reach patients who would otherwise be resistant to therapy.
“The fundamental change that results from this therapy is that patients are better able to communicate with and relate to others. Specifically, I found patients to be more animated, more expressive, more spontaneous, and less hindered by internal noise,” said Mitchell. He added that three patients who had not shown any improvement before attending AAT sessions made “memorable and significant progress” during these sessions.
Information about using pets and animals in therapy with psychiatric patients is available on the Web at www.biophiliainaction.com and www.petsandpeople.org.
Let pets visit hospital patients, NHS told
Daily mail online 11th May 2004
Pet power: Research has shown animals can aid recovery Hospital patients should be given “pets on prescription” to speed their recovery, a leading psychologist has claimed. Dr June McNicholas said that more hospitals and care homes should give visiting rights to animals when their owners were ill.
She said that in most cases patients were more likely to catch something from their human visitors than they were from their pets.
More hospitals should acknowledge the importance of animals in people’s lives and provide visiting rooms for those patients desperate to see their pets, Dr McNicholas told nurses in Harrogate. She said if possible pets should have as much contact with their owners as possible without turning hospitals into a menagerie.
This could also be achieved by letting patients see their pets through a window in a garden area outside the ward. “Pet visiting rooms should be acceptable in hospitals wherever they can be fitted in, and where possible pets should be allowed on to the bed. I know this is going to raise huge cries of the risks but to be perfectly honest people are more likely to catch infections from their human visitors. It’s not like we put every person through a sheep dip when they come into hospitals,” Dr McNicholas said.
By Sharmini Selvarajah, Reporter, BBC Radio 4’s You and Yours
A care home in Birmingham is using pigs, chickens, goats and other animals to improve the lives of its residents. Neville Williams House is taking part in a three-year research project looking at how interaction with animals can benefit people with dementia.
NHS guidelines include animal-assisted therapy as one form of intervention which should be available to people with dementia suffering from depression or anxiety.
“It was a leap of faith,” says Marcus Fellows, the chief executive of the home. “There were fears about health and safety, illness, disease. People were saying, if you have pigs then they’re going to bite people.” But after talking to staff at a local nature centre and consulting carers and residents, Mr Fellows decided to go ahead with keeping a range of outdoor animals on the premises.
At the moment the home has two goats, one pig, two rabbits, a guinea pig, ducks, chickens and an aviary of birds. The animals all live in the garden where residents are free to visit them whenever they like. The smaller animals and even the goats are also taken indoors so residents can interact with them whatever the weather.
It costs £1,000 a year to feed the animals, which were all either donated or purchased with money given to the home specifically for this purpose. So far there have not been any vets’ bills and insurance is covered by the home’s existing policy.
Professor Alison Bowes from the University of Stirling is leading a research project which will be focusing on the work done at Neville Williams House.
“It’s aiming to identify best practice. We’re looking at the quality of life of people with dementia and their family members,” she says. The project will also be analysing previous research on the effects of animal interventions. Jane Fossey, a clinical psychologist and deputy chairman of The Society of Companion Animal Studies, says there is a lot of small-scale and anecdotal evidence that animals can improve the quality of life of people with dementia.
One study found that having a fish tank present increases the nutritional intake of people with dementia and another found that companion animals reduce verbal aggression and anxiety in people with Alzheimer’s disease.
Back at Neville Williams House the residents are delighted with their new companions. Flo Condon, 85, is a day visitor there. She says everyone loves the animals and fights over who will get to care for them. “You always have something in your pocket for them when nobody’s looking,” she says.
Christine Adams, whose mother is a full-time resident at the home, says she has noticed a difference since the animals have been around. “It’s helped her with her speech and you can see that she becomes much more animated when she’s near the animals.” Mrs Adams says having the animals around is also useful when her children and grandchildren visit. “When we go out into the garden it gives us a lot to talk about because in the home you get a bit limited about what you can talk about. It’s like having a family outing but still on the premises.”
Behaving like animals
Snippets from the transcript of Radio 4’s A Point of View. Written by the philosopher John Gray.
But the idea that animals are inferior versions of humans is fundamentally misguided.
And it’s the fact that they are so different from humans that makes contact with them so valuable to us.
Whatever you feel about cats and dogs, it seems clear that the human animal needs contact with something other than itself. For religious people this need may be satisfied by God, even if the God with whom they commune seems too often all-too-human. For many landscape gives a sense of release from the human world, even if the land has been groomed and combed by humans for generations, as it has in England.
…a temporary exit from the introspective human world.
Pets and their therapeutic effects
You probably know about guide dogs – also called seeing-eye dogs, but do you know about animal-assisted therapy – or pet therapy? While guide dogs are trained to lead blind or visually impaired people around obstacles throughout their daily activities, several other animals may be involved in pet therapy with various goals.
A relatively new field of study, animal-assisted therapy (AAT) is a type of therapy that involves animals as a form of treatment. The goal of AAT is to improve a patient’s social, emotional, or cognitive functioning. They can also be useful for educational and motivational effectiveness for participants. Animals are great tools for therapy because they can make people feel safe and loved when they have been deprived of social interaction or hurt by other people. They do not communicate with words, and so patients afraid of approaching people can comfortably approach an animal.
Additionally, a therapist who brings along a pet is viewed as being less dangerous to the patient, and so the previously uncommunicative patient is willing to share more with the professional. Animals commonly used for therapy include dogs, cats, horses, birds, rabbits, and other small animals.1 The type of animal is not really important. What matters is that the animal fits the temperament, interest and individual needs of the patient.
Animals as therapy
“Patients’ engagement with pets could well be the key that opens the door to engagement in other therapeutic programmes and must be considered as an important adjunct to a holistic approach to patient recovery of health and well-being.”
- Dr. John McGinley (Psychology Director, The State Hospital, Lanarkshire)
About 50% of UK households own a pet. Recent statistics indicate we share our lives with 7.3 million dogs and 7.2 million cats. (Not all at once, of course!) For many Cambian residents, whether in hospital or school, not only must they live away from home, their family and friends but might also lose the companionship of a much-loved animal. For some, this is one of the most missed aspects of their lives.
While it’s not possible for Cambian to accommodate people’s pets, animals play an important part in the daily routine of many of our service-users. They bring everyday life a little bit closer, offer friendship and fun, but, in addition are invaluable as part of therapy. There has been a great deal of research that shows the benefits. We don’t need to read it –
we can see for ourselves. Here are just a few examples:
Animals in residence
At Sherwood House, they like to do things differently. “We thought about getting a budgie,’ said Ricky Holland, the hospital manager, “but one of our clients is interested in birds of prey so we ended up with a red-tailed buzzard instead!” She’s called Tilly. Looking after her has been a project for helping to construct an aviary, consulting the RSPB and receiving
advice from a local bird expert. Tilly has given some of the clients a focus, a reason to leap out of bed in the mornings, and a topic of conversation.
Storthfield has gone for something a little easier to catch – Flash the red-footed tortoise! She is at her happiest wandering around the conservatory, occasionally handled by clients. A quiet reptile who is not demanding, all she requires is a daily feeding regime and a regular cleaning schedule which benefits her and provides responsibility for clients.
In the US, ‘Animal-Assisted Therapy’ is held in high regard. A year-long study in a forensic psychiatric hospital showed a 50% reduction in medication, and lower levels of violence for the AAT group compared with the group who had none. A ward with pets had no incidents of serious self-harm; a similar ward with no pets had eight.
Once a month, the patients at St. Augustine’s have a chance to spend some time with Stella the labrador, from ‘Pets as Therapy,’ who is blessed with a wonderful calming disposition. Staff-nurse Alison made the arrangements. “It’s very soothing to spend time with a dog as placid as Stella and the reaction has been very positive. Patients who are very withdrawn seem to open up when she’s around.”
Visits from Stella allow the patients to build a trusting relationship with a creature who gives unconditional love and affection. Her presence improves interaction between patients too, giving them something in common to discuss.
At Storthfield, Katie, a sheltie who belongs to Monika Payne, Head of Nursing Care, visits the unit regularly to allow the patients to pet and walk her. She’s a gentle dog and wanders around the unit with a supervisor. The clients enjoy her company and spend time talking to her, grooming and
The American Psychiatric Association reports that Animal- Assisted Therapy was associated with reduced state anxiety levels for hospitalized patients with a variety of psychiatric diagnoses.
Animals in the community
Dog-walking is an activity enjoyed by many Cambian clients. From Sherwood, a group go to the Jerry Green Dog Rescue Centre in the neighbouring village of Blidworth. Kelly Brandon, Therapy Co-Ordinator, tells us: “The patients have a dog each that they walk around the field. We have seen improvements in them since they have been interacting with the dogs. In some it has helped their interpersonal skills, morale and motivation. It’s also a little light exercise for some of our less active patients.
Some of the men take treats for the dogs and tins of food, as the kennels relies on donations. Some now have plans to adopt their own rescue dogs when they return to the community, when most would have opted for a new puppy. Some of the men also enjoyed a visit to Twycross Zoo.
Dog walking is good for your health!
It raises the heartbeat from around 80 beats per minute to 140. A raised heartbeat means more blood and oxygen is being delivered to the heart muscle helping to maintain a healthy heart and lungs.
Patients from Aspen House and Lodge have just started horse riding at the Northern Racing College. There are both indoor and outdoor facilities, so whatever the weather, patients can enjoy the activity and exercise.
A group of about five patients go there on a regular basis. There have been significant benefits observed for two patients in particular, who usually find it difficult to participate in group activities.
Adele, who has never ridden before said, “It’s really nice to have the interaction with the horses, they are so gentle. It was my first time, but they didn’t push me, I’m trying trotting next week!”
Denise thinks “It’s a good scheme and good for motivation. The horses like me and I warm to them. I think the indoor facilities are great, I love grooming the horses.”
Horse riding has many therapeutic benefits:
- Reach therapeutic goals: improve muscle tone and posture, develop fine and gross motor movement
- Combat social isolation: build relationships, enjoy events and competition, develop self-confidence
- Develop life skills: improve communication, take responsibility, be a team player
- Experience the outdoors: ride in the countryside, access rural Britain
- Connect with animals: bringing positivity and optimism, adding a new element to life
We could all put our names to a statement from the Pet Health Council: “It will come as no surprise to animal lovers that research shows that pets are good for our health. Contact with animals can bring real physiological and psychological benefits.”
Resources and references
There are lots and lots of compelling, endearing, inspiring stories and evidence about the therapeutic benefits of contact with animals. If you’ve only got time to look at one thing, we’d strongly recommend this amazing resource from the State Hospital in Scotland – a high secure unit with a superb animal therapy programme.
Animals as Therapy in Mental Health – essential and very enjoyable reading
Lovely news article about Pets as Therapy dogs being introduced to hospitals across North Wales
Don’t take our word for it. Well, please do and here’s a fraction of the reasons why.
The Effects of Animal-Assisted Therapy on Anxiety Ratings of Hospitalized Psychiatric Patients. Sandra B. Barker, Ph.D.; Kathryn S. Dawson, Ph.D. Psychiatric Services (1998)
Pets As Therapy – greatly appreciated provider of dogs and their human volunteers.
Society for Companion Animals Studies – an education charity working to support and promote the health and social benefits of interactions between people and companion animals.
The Pawsitive Pals Pet Therapy Program at San Diego Hospice and The Institute for Palliative Medicine features certified dogs of all shapes, sizes, and breeds who show how they reduce loneliness, depression, stress, and isolation while promoting relaxation and improved morale.
Video of astonishingly realistic, interactive toy dog. Buddy makes a guest star appearance.
Buddy (Marion’s support dog)