The Benefits and Training of Therapy Animals
Therapy animals are pets who volunteer with their owners to provide therapeutic benefits, emotional support, and comfort to various members of the community through animal-assisted interventions. Unlike service animals who work to assist one individual, therapy animals aim to improve wellbeing for all people they interact with in settings like hospitals, schools, disaster areas and more.
Benefits for the Community
Studies show animal-assisted therapy significantly reduces pain, anxiety, depression, and feelings of isolation in groups like hospital patients, seniors, troubled youth and veterans with PTSD. Stroking soft fur lowers blood pressure. Pets facilitate socialization and emotional engagement. Therapy animal visits provide mood-boosting mental health support with biochemical and psychological benefits.
Becoming a Certified Therapy Animal
While therapy animals are not legally designated like service dogs, certification demonstrates they meet behavioral standards for visiting vulnerable populations. Certifying organizations evaluate animal temperament, health, cleanliness and training.
The most popular therapy animal is the dog, but cats, horses, rabbits and other pets can also serve. Top training priorities include manners, good socialization with people and other animals, desensitization to unfamiliar environments and obedience to handler cues despite major distractions. Therapy animals must remain calm, gentle and responsive.
Identifying Community Needs
Qualified handlers partner with local organizations to identify populations and environments that would most benefit from therapy animal interactions. Programs serve settings like:
- Hospitals: Bedside animal visits reduce patient stress.
- Nursing homes: Pets decrease loneliness and spark reminiscing.
- Schools & libraries: Animals boost literacy skills and attentiveness.
- Disaster relief: Therapy pets calm survivors and responders.
- Courts: Facility dogs help vulnerable victims testify.
- Rehabilitation: Pets aid motivation and therapy progress.
Therapy animals provide communal social and emotional support when thoughtfully deployed to serve public needs. These friendly, trained pets and handlers spread joy and healing through the power of the human-animal bond.