Pets can provide us with many things — companionship, fun, unconditional love, a playmate – and they can help us heal, and even aid the medical process. Animal-assisted therapy can improve a wide range of physical, social, emotional, and cognitive functions. Children are wonderful candidates for pet therapy.
Children are naturally drawn to animals, and often feel more comfortable with an animal present while undergoing medical procedures or therapy. A child may believe that an animal understands them better than a grown-up, and may even be more inclined to speak to the animal than to a medical professional. Special needs children or those with boundary, sensory, trauma, or other issues may especially benefit from the presence of an animal to pet and cuddle.
This moving video shows a formerly lifeless six-year-old boy, Caleb Howard, who suffered a traumatic brain injury and broken bones from a car accident, responding to Colonel, the dog who helped Caleb heal.
People often think only of dogs for pet therapy, but riding horses is therapeutic and helps improve balance, muscle tone, motor coordination, self-confidence, and more. Here’s a site to help you find an Equine therapy program for children with a wide range of disabilities, injuries, emotional problems, or special needs.
For those interested in getting a dog involved to help, Therapy Dogs International has dogs registered in all 50 U.S. states and some in Canada.
Here in Palo Alto, California, Stanford Health Care has their Pet Assisted Wellness (PAWS) program, which provides animal visitation. Pets shown in this article are certified through Pet Partners and volunteering at Stanford Health Care.