The Many Talents of Therapy Animals
For example, AAT programs may include any of the following goals:
|Improve post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)||Improve standing balance||Increase exercise|
|Improve wheelchair skills||Increase attention skills||Improve fine motor skills|
|Increase verbal interactions||Aid in long- or short-term memory||Increase vocabulary|
|Increase self-esteem||Reduce anxiety||Reduce loneliness|
|Improve knowledge of concepts such as size, color, etc.||Develop leisure and recreation skills||Improve willingness to be involved in group activities|
Sources and References
Eight Amazing Therapy Animals (not just dogs!)
While dogs and cats are the most commonly involved animals, AAT can also include horses, rabbits, hedgehogs, llamas, pigs, skunks, snakes, and even spiders (including tarantulas, which have been used for therapy in people with autism). Here are eight examples of therapy animals and the lives they’ve touched.
1. Rojo the Therapy Llama and Napoleon the Therapy Alpaca
Rojo and Napoleon have made more than 800 therapy visits to hospitals, rehabilitation facilities, and schools near their home in Vancouver, Washington. Only 14 llamas are registered as therapy animals in the US.
2. Oscar the Therapy Cat
The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) reported the story of Oscar, a cat that resided at the Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Providence, Rhode Island and could predict when residents were about to die. Oscar would curl up next to patients within hours of their deaths, not budging until they had passed. According to NEJM:
“His mere presence at the bedside is viewed by physicians and nursing home staff as an almost absolute indicator of impending death, allowing staff members to adequately notify families. Oscar has also provided companionship to those who would otherwise have died alone. For his work, he is highly regarded by the physicians and staff at Steere House and by the families of the residents whom he serves.”
3. Spartacus, Akita Therapy Dog
Spartacus was among the first on scene after the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newton, Connecticut, and he remained there for months afterward offering support to students, responders, and staff.
Spartacus was so helpful in the wake of tragedy that Connecticut government officials passed a law mandating that crisis victims have access to therapy dogs within 24 hours.
4. Hector, Pit Bull Therapy Dog
Hector is one of the pit bulls rescued from Michael Vick’s dogfighting operation in 2007. He is now a trained therapy dog who visits schools to help children learn about compassion toward animals.
5. Lexy, German Shepard Therapy Dog
Lexy supports members of the military at Fort Bragg, including those with post-war stress and trauma. She’s earned the rank of lieutenant colonel.
6. Buttercup, Therapy Pig
Buttercup is a Vietnamese pot-bellied pig who visits special-needs kids in San Francisco schools, alongside speech pathologist Lois Brady. Together, the team helps children with autism to improve social skills, and one severely autistic boy is said to have spoken to his classmates for the first time after a visit with Buttercup.
7. Elsa, Pit Bull Therapy Dog
Elsa was abused and neglected before she was rescued by a new owner who registered her for a pet visitation program. Elsa, whose own back legs are barely functional, is fitted with a special cart that allows her to make visits with patients in long-term care along with those suffering from spinal cord injuries.