"Evidence suggests that animal-assisted therapy (AAT) can have a positive effect on a patient's psychosocial, emotional and physical well being," said Julia Havey, study presenter and senior systems analyst, Department of Medical Center Information Systems, Loyola University Health System (LUHS). "These data further support these benefits and build the case for expanding the use of pet therapy in recovery."
Animal lover Havey, and colleague Frances Vlasses, began raising puppies to become assistance dogs more than a decade ago through a program called Canine Companions for Independence (CCI). The non-profit organization provides highly trained assistance dogs to people with physical and developmental disabilities free of charge.
At the CCI's regional training center the dogs are trained to be one of four types of assistance dogs: Service dogs are trained to assist with physical tasks and provide social support to their partners. These dogs learn 40 commands to enhance the independence of people with ailments ranging from spinal cord injuries to multiple sclerosis.
Facility dogs are trained to work with a professional in a visitation, education or health- care setting. They can perform more than 40 commands designed to motivate, rehabilitate or soothe clients with special needs.
Skilled companion dogs are trained to work with an adult or child with a disability under the guidance of a facilitator. Disabilities served include cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, autism and Down's syndrome. A skilled companion also can serve as a social bridge to people who are not used to relating to a person with disabilities.
Hearing dogs are trained to recognize and alert partners to various sounds, such as a doorbell, alarm clock or smoke alarm. The average service life of each dog is eight years. After that time, the dog retires to live out its golden years as a pet.
Havey and Vlasses believe that animal-assisted therapy will ultimately become a standard of care for healing. The pair will continue to advocate for this therapeutic option through public speaking engagements and philanthropic work.
MEDICA.de; Source: Loyola University Health System