I’ve really been contemplating how much animals and people help each another and how our lives are wonderfully intertwined. It’s clear that pets depend on their human families for care, food, safety and love. And people rely on their pets for, among a gazillion other things, companionship, total unconditional love and loyalty.
I’ve spent quite a bit of time reflecting on how our lives would seem incomplete if we didn’t have each other. I know my life story would have a completely different ending if it were not for my human family. And I’d like to think my human family feels the same way about me.
In fact, a couple of weeks ago I wrote about how animals help people by being service dogs, offering assistance to people suffering from a variety of disabilities and challenges. Service dogs help people maintain their independence when they otherwise may find it difficult to do so.
Service dogs can help people with vision problems, hearing impairment, Parkinson’s disease, PTSD and seizures, to just name a few. These dogs are working dogs committed to improving the lives of the people for whom they work. As it turns out, it’s usually more than a working relationship between the service dog and the person. There is typically a strong bond that develops between the two.
There’s another category of service where pets can be of tremendous benefit to humans. That’s through pet therapy.
A pet therapy dog generally belongs to a handler who has been trained to take the dog in various environments, exposing the dog to the public. The therapy dog has been tested in various circumstances and must demonstrate the ability to have a consistently calm and loving temperament regardless of the distractions around him.
My own Aunt Patti Deeb Jones is a pet therapy dog handler. She and her registered therapy dog, Teresa Jones, bring sunshine and joy to residents in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, as well as to students in schools and to patients and families in hospice.
If you’ve ever seen Teresa Jones in action donning her monogrammed pet therapy vest doing her therapy work, you’d see she is on a mission fulfilling a calling. She takes her work seriously and goes from person to person sharing affection and cuddles.
One of the most poignant incidents that affirms the power of pet therapy was the time Aunt Patti and Teresa Jones entered into a hospice facility only to be greeted by a lady that, without warning, fell to the floor and grabbed Teresa. She sat on the floor weeping and hugged Teresa tightly for a few tearful minutes. The lady then asked Aunt Patti how did she know Teresa was exactly what she needed at that crucial moment of grief in her life. She was losing someone very dear to her, and her heart was breaking.
Teresa responded with abundant kisses and snuggles. Teresa made a difference to that lady.
The benefits of pet therapy are numerous. Just stroking a pet can reduce anxiety, lower blood pressure, diminish pain and produce a calming effect in a stressful environment.
Pet therapy also can help kids in school who may be having a tough time learning to read aloud. Dogs make wonderful audiences to read to. They love without judging, which is exactly what kids who are having a hard time in school need.
The relationship between animals and people is so strong and rewarding. We’ve just begun to scratch the surface on how beneficial we are to each other.
If you need a furry family member to experience this intense bond, please adopt one of the animals from a local shelter. You’ll be glad you did.
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