Animal Therapy: How Common Animals Are Making Medical History

Animals, ranging from dogs to llamas, are becoming a helping hand in creating a better life for others.

Haley Edwards

Sophomore Casey Kiyohara spending time with her dog, Sparky, to help relieve stress and put her in a better mood.

Dogs, cats, rabbits, llamas and alpacas-yes, even alpacas-are helping to improve the quality of life for people all over the country. Ever since 1989, animals have been used to assist therapy for people. Programs such as Rainbow Assisted Animal Therapy and Canine Therapy Corps in Chicago visit hospitals, retirement homes, schools and rehabilitation centers to have their animals spread their joy.

Animal assisted therapy is a type of therapy involving animals, most commonly dogs, to help improve emotional, social and cognitive functioning. Animal therapy has been around for 27 years and is just now starting to get the recognition it deserves. Animal therapy builds on a pre-existing bond between animals and humans. Interacting with a friendly pet can drastically improve mental and physical health. There are countless stories of how animals have helped someone improve the quality of their life.

“I think it’s beneficial because dogs always calm me down and make me happy,” junior Mary Cook said. “Animal therapy is great because it’s an amazing way to put people in a better mood.”

Animal therapy has a number of benefits for the patients. Animals visit children and adults in need of support. As stated before, animal therapy can help physical and mental functioning, but there are specific benefits of this type of therapy. Animal therapy is mainly known for reducing anxiety, stress and depression. It also lowers blood pressure and heart rate while increasing trust and rapport.

Although this therapy is highly beneficial, it is not very well known because it is so often confused with service dogs. They may seem similar, but there are a lot of important differences to know.

“The biggest difference between therapy and service animals is that service animals live with the people they serve,” Anna Davidson, Office Manager of Canine Therapy Corps said. “Service dogs are specially trained for the tasks of the person they live with. Therapy animals, on the other hand, are just regular pets at home, they go out and work with their owner for a few hours at a time with people in need outside of their home.”  

Therapy dogs and service dogs are very different, especially in training. Therapy dogs require certain qualifications to be a therapy animal, but it doesn’t require the same amount of training as a service dog.

Haley Edwards