Sunday, 7 December 2014

What is Animal Assisted Therapy?

Animal-assisted therapy (AAT) programs help humans overcome, or at least cope with, health problems (both physical and emotional). Dr. Boris Levinson, a US child psychologist, is credited with discovering AAT in the 1960s.
At that time, he brought his dog Jingles with him to visit a withdrawn child and found he was able to gain the boy’s trust, thanks to Jingles’ presence. As Dr. Levinson stated:1
“A pet is an island of sanity in what appears to be an insane world. Friendship retains its traditional values and securities in one’s relationship with one’s pet. Whether a dog, cat, bird, fish, turtle, or what have you, one can rely upon the fact that one’s pet will always remain a faithful, intimate, non-competitive friend, regardless of the good or ill fortune life brings us.”
While AAT was met with criticism in the ‘60s, it slowly gained a following and today is commonly used in health care settings. For instance, 60% of hospice-care providers that offer complementary and alternative treatments offer animal-assisted therapy to their patients.2

The Many Talents of Therapy Animals

AAT can take many forms. It may involve patients caring for an animal, as is often the case in equine therapy, or it can involve animals brought into health care settings to interact with patients individually or in groups. For instance, encouraging research to date has shown that equine therapy (interaction with horses) improves symptoms in Alzheimer’s patients.3
Other research has found adults recovering from joint-replacement therapy who used AAT (canine therapy, in this case) used 50% less pain medication.4It’s truly remarkable how many different health complaints seem to benefit from animal assisted therapy.
According to Pet Partners, a non-profit organization that provides animal-assisted interactions, “AAT is designed to promote improvement in human physical, social, emotional, and/or cognitive functioning.”5 

For example, AAT programs may include any of the following goals:
Improve post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)Improve standing balanceIncrease exercise
Improve wheelchair skillsIncrease attention skillsImprove fine motor skills
Increase verbal interactionsAid in long- or short-term memoryIncrease vocabulary
Increase self-esteemReduce anxietyReduce loneliness
Improve knowledge of concepts such as size, color, etc.Develop leisure and recreation skillsImprove willingness to be involved in group activities

Story at-a-glance

  • Animal-assisted therapy (AAT) can help people cope with and overcome physical and emotional challenges
  • AAT is used for motivation, mental health, reducing loneliness and anxiety, improving fine motor skills and verbal interactions, and much more
  • Animals bring comfort and care to patients with a wide array of health problems, from Alzheimer’s and autism to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and recovery from surgery
Sources and References

In Memory of Blackie

Fay Karamanakis tells the story of her beloved Labrador-cross Blackie, who was shot dead six hours after saving her family’s life by a police officer. The dog was one of hundreds shot by Government authorities in a bid to control roaming packs through the northern suburbs and control the spread of disease. Blackie was one of the first to go.

Fay still finds it hard to talk about that day, but her recall is vivid. As the weather intensified, Blackie became more frantic and began scratching the door and yelping.

“When I went to get a towel to dry him up he runs straight to the baby’s bedroom,” Fay says. “He grabbed the baby’s sheets and pulled them and the baby knocked her head on the metal cot and started screaming. I grabbed the baby and I thought ‘you naughty dog, how could you do this?’ My baby was blue from the impact and crying.”

As Fay comforted the baby, Blackie ran to 3yr old Katie’s room next door and grabbed her by the pyjamas, pulling her onto the floorboards where she landed heavily. Fay thought Blackie had gone mad.

“I remember holding both screaming kids in my arms thinking this stupid dog was going to make me give the baby measles ... I was crying with the kids,” she says. 

But Blackie began trying to nudge the family out the front door: “this dog is telling us to go, so we went downstairs.”

They took shelter in the granny flat below the elevated house with another couple. Within seconds, the top of the house, where they had been only moments earlier, began to peel away.

“The entire house collapsed from above and fell onto one side,” Fay says. “When the eye came over us we thought it was over so we kissed and hugged, but minutes later it started again and the big noise – well it was twice as bad. This time missiles were going everywhere. We accepted we were going to die ... the fear was that bad.”

Darwin had been absolutely obliterated. And there was Blackie, who after sheltering under a car all night raced straight to the family. He had not wanted to come into the granny flat, but he was fine.

Police helped the family slowly drive the short distance to the school.“As I walked into the shelter I heard a bang. I turn around to see what the bang was and I saw my dog had been shot … that was devastating.. devastating because he had saved our lives. There was no pre-warning; they thought he was a stray because he had run after the car.”

“I still miss him and feel upset when I think about him. He saved our lives.”

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Dogs can accurately sense Earth's magnetic field

Not only can dogs sense the earth's magnetic field, but they can actually use it to orient their bodies when they relieve themselves, according to a study conducted by researchers from the Czech University of Life Sciences and the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany, and published in Frontiers in Zoology.

Magneto-reception, or the ability to sense the earth's magnetic field, has been demonstrated in a wide variety of animals, including bees, birds and even some mammals.

"We discovered [by measuring Google Earth aerial pictures] that cattle align with the magnetic field lines a few years ago," researcher Sabine Begall said. 

"Since then, we studied hunting behavior in [the] red fox and found that they have a preference for N-E during their mousing jumps, and from there it was just a small step to study dogs. First, we looked also at other behaviors but the results were less promising than the 'pooping direction.'"

The current study is the first to demonstrate magneto-reception in dogs.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Dogs lend their Paws to the Wildlife Conservation Effort

Of the many roles played by dogs, they can now add conservation to their résumé. Also known as “sniffer dogs,” their talents are rooted in their detection skills, which have been used to search for explosives, drugs, missing people, and forensic evidence. Because of the prolific trade in illegal and endangered animal species and products, many countries are now using sniffer dogs to catch would-be wildlife traffickers.
The United States
Canine service inspectors are on the front lines of this law enforcement, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. They inspect declared wildlife shipments and work to intercept smuggled wildlife and other illegal wildlife products such as elephant ivory and rhino horn. They check exports and imports at key points of entry: ocean ports, border crossings, U.S. international airports, international mail facilities, and UPS and FedEx processing centers. They are also being used for conservation efforts pertaining to species such as the desert tortoise in California’s Mojave Desert.
Galapagos Islands
The Grup de Intervención y Rescate (GIR), Equador’s elite police unit, has trained dogs to work in the Galapagos Islands. After arriving in Jan 2009, they received additional training by Unidad de Protección del Medio Ambiente (UPMA), the environmental police. This canine squad curtails wildlife trafficking in the Galapagos by combating sea cucumber and shark fin smuggling.
Illegal poaching in Africa is now an epidemic. The demand for ivory has resulted in all-time high levels of poaching of elephants and rhinoceros, which are slaughtered for the lucrative tusks by well-trained, well-equipped and well-funded poachers. Rhino poaching alone has increased up to 3,000% since 2007. According to the African Wildlife Foundation, if poaching is not stopped, many of these species could become extinct within our lifetime. The AWF elephant and rhino protection funding to Kenya Wildlife Service supplements its existing Canine Detection Unit. While the unit is small due to resource constraints, its canine handlers and trained sniffer dogs boast a 90% accuracy rate in the detection of elephant ivory and rhino horn smuggled in shipments and luggage at airports and seaports.


If you happen to be arriving at an airport in Yunnan, the Chinese province bordering Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar, you could be greeted by several Labrador sniffer dogs. Both the canines and their handlers have undergone rigorous training to identify the most commonly trafficked illegal products, such as rhino horn, ivory, pangolin scales, tiger parts, live turtles and other endangered animals. These dogs were secured through the efforts of Chinese wildlife trade enforcement, through a program that is part of the anti-smuggling Bureau of the General Administration of Customs of China (GACC).

Detector dog Reggie has been specially trained to sniff out noxious cane toads and boost Australia’s fight against the feral species. Springer spaniels are an ideal breed for cane toad detection because of their acute sense of smell, high energy levels and ability to act on command.

Universities introduce “puppy breaks” for students

The end of semester can be a tough time, with students feeling the crunch of big assignments and cramming for exams. Add to it the lack of sleep, eating badly and more than a few drinks, and it's pretty easy to get stressed out.

Dalhousie University is trying out a new way to fight stress: “Puppies!

It has created a puppy room to help students cope with the stress of exams and end-of-term assignments. The dogs will be provided by Therapeutic Paws of Canada, a non-profit organization that trains animals to help people with therapeutic or practical needs. 

University of Ottawa also approached Therapeutic Paws Of Canada and brought in Tundra, an 8yr old border collie mix, to the campus to help stressed-out students.

"Just petting a dog will decrease your blood pressure and relieve anxiety. You can be affectionate with them and they’ll be affectionate back. They love attention," said Tundra's owner and fellow student, Audrey Giles.

“Some students said they missed their family dog back home and needed to get a puppy fix. Others had come from an exam and were looking for a distraction,” says McGill student and event coordinator, Amanda Fraser. 

Simon Fraser University (SFU) and University of British Columbia (UBC) in Canada are doing something to help students de-stress.

UBC Wellness Center has implemented a program called “Paws for Health” that will run through exam dates. Students can sign up for the program and get 10 minutes to play and cuddle and hang out with Jasmine, the Pawfessional De-Stresser.

SFU Health and Counseling Services is partnering with the Pacific Assistance Dogs Society (PADS) to bring puppies (being trained as service dogs) to campus. You can watch UBC’s resident de-stresser in action here:

Dogs have been helping students de-stress at a number of U.S. schools, as well. 

From Kent State University in Ohio to Macalester College in Minnesota, more and more pooches are around campus during exams to help students relax, according to the Associated Press.

'We had a student who came in and a staff person commented they had never seen that student smile,' said Richelle Reid, a law librarian who started Emory's pet therapy program. 'It has had positive effects, helping them to just have a moment to clear their minds and not have to think about studies, not have to think about books.'

Pups are in counseling centers for students to visit regularly or faculty and staff bring their pets to lift spirits.
Pet-friendly dorms also are popping up where students can bring their dogs or cats from home and at Harvard Medical School and Yale Law School, students can 'rent' pets for some alone time

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Dogs take centre stage in pioneering cancer trial

Medical DetectionDogs given permission to launch world’s first breast cancer detection trial.
The charity, which recently won the support of the Duchess of Cornwall, has spent the past 18 months preparing an application to the Buckingham NHS Trust ethics committee for permission to begin the trial, which will use breath samples from volunteers in Buckinghamshire and the olfactory powers of its dogs. The application has now been approved and the trial will be underway soon.
Since its foundation seven years ago, Medical Detection Dogs has trained dogs to detect prostate, renal and bladder cancer in urine samples. It is seen as a world-leader in its field and now advises smaller clinics in Europe, Australia and the USA. Although it’s not been determined exactly what it is the dogs detect, it’s thought that volatile substances emitted by cancerous cells are present in the urine of cancer patients and that these give off an odour perceptible to dogs.
Dr Claire Guest, founder and chief executive of MedicalDetection Dogs, was alerted to her own breast cancer by her dog. She will be principle investigator of the trial and said she hopes to find volatile substances in breath samples collected from breast cancer patients.
"This is such a fascinating area to study,” she said. "It doesn’t seem necessarily logical that breast cancer should lead to volatile substances to be present in breath samples, but we have seen sufficient anecdotal and minor trial evidence to feel confident this is an avenue well worth pursuing. If it works it will revolutionise the way we think about breast cancer. In the long term, we hope to assist scientists to develop E-noses, electronic systems which are able to detect the odour of cancer through cheap, quick, non-invasive tests. If we can prove the principle that breast cancer is detectable on a person’s breath, machines could eventually detect that odour.”
Latest figures from Cancer Research UK revealed that more than 50,000 people a year are diagnosed with breast cancer in the UK, and 12,000 will die. Dr Guest said:
"Under current procedures for detecting breast cancer, many women have to wait until they are 50 before they are invited in for their first mammogram. As someone who has had breast cancer significantly younger than that I’m painfully aware that that would have been too long for me to wait before being scanned for the first time. 
After 50, women are invited to have another mammogram every three years. This means a woman could have breast cancer for two years without finding out, by which point the tumour could be well established. The problem is, it’s not good for women to be scanned more regularly than that because of the exposure to radiation. So if we succeed in proving that dogs can detect breast cancer on breath samples, younger women and women such as myself, who have had breast cancer and need regular checks to ensure the tumour has not returned, could simply breathe into a tube and find out safely and quickly their state of health.”
Previous trials carried out by Medical Detection Dogs include a 2004 investigation into the detection of bladder cancer using urine samples, published in the British Medical Journal, and a 2011 study into the same type of cancer but with a larger sample size published in the journal Cancer Biomarkers.
The charity has also been working with renal and prostate samples; in the latter it has achieved 93% reliability compared to the 75% false positive rate of the traditional tests.
In Feb 2014, Medical Detection Dogs were invited to demonstrate their skills to Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall at St James’ Palace. Subsequently the Duchess became a patron of the charity, which works with researchers, NHS trusts and universities. 
The Medical Alert Assistance Dogs it trains help individuals with complex medical conditions such as diabetes, and the animals can identify odour changes associated with certain medical events such as a drop in blood sugar level. Currently there are 50 dogs partnered with diabetics in the UK and with more funding this number will increase.
When I grow up I want to become a Medical Alert Dog...just like my mate Molly!

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Dog helps boy unlock his Autism - a friend Like Henry

The moving true story of a Golden Retriever named Henry who was adopted into a family with a severely Autistic boy named Dale. The Autism was so severe, Dale stopped speaking to his parents and his tantrums worsened. Dale's breakthrough came through the help and unconditional love of Henry.

This story became a best selling book and then turned into a life-affirming film.

A Friend Like Henry: The Remarkable True Story of an Autistic Boy and the Dog That Unlocked His World - Nuala Gardner

Front CoverA Friend Like Henry is a mother's heart-warming account of how her little boy conquered his autism with the help of a devoted family dog, a Golden Retriever.

When Jamie and Nuala Gardner chose a puppy for their son, Dale, they weren't an ordinary family choosing an ordinary pet. Dale's autism was so severe that the smallest deviation from his routine could provoke a terrifying tantrum. Family life was almost destroyed by his condition, and his parents spent most of their waking hours trying to break into their son's autistic world and give him the help he so desperately needed. 

But after years of constant effort and slow progress, the Gardners lives were transformed when they welcomed a new member into the family, Henry, a gorgeous golden retriever puppy. The bond between Dale & his dog would change their lives...

After Thomas: 

The movie based on this true story. A British couple struggle to cope with their child's autism until a puppy unlocks his hidden side.

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