Animal Therapy: The Benefits
Animal-assisted therapy is an innovation that helps people to overcome the challenges affecting their physical and emotional wellbeing: it can improve physical, mental, social and emotional functioning, with the help of various animals.
Horses and dogs are most commonly used, in equine-assisted therapy and canine-assisted therapy respectively, but many other species can be used including llamas, dolphins, sheep, rabbits, cats, guinea pigs and plenty more.
Animal-assisted therapy is used to help patients in many different settings including nursing homes, hospitals, prisons, therapeutic schools for teenagers, therapy centres and mental health facilities. It can take place in groups, or individually. In all cases, a qualified therapist or professional healthcare expert leads the sessions.
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Animal therapy benefits
Animal-assisted therapy enables participants to set specific therapeutic goals, with the experiences including walking, petting, brushing, grooming and caring for animals. Practical experience gives people the chance to try something new and feel a mental boost by completing the task in hand.
The therapy is so successful because of the strong bond it’s possible to create between people and animals – animals are non-judgmental, accepting and non-threatening, making it easier to form a bond as people open up.
This kind of therapy can benefit disabled patients by helping to improve their fine motor skills, their balance when participating in therapies such as horse-riding and their general physical fitness and strength.
Emotional benefits are also plentiful. People who have anxiety and experience feelings of isolation, panic or grief can experience increased focus and self-esteem, while improving their ability to care for themselves as they learn how to look after animals’ needs. This in turn can reduce high blood pressure and the subsequent risk of a stroke or heart attack, as they become less anxious.
Patients can become more willing to take part in a group activity, such as therapeutic programmes, thus increasing their ability to work as part of a team, while enhancing their empathy and trust.
People of all ages, from children and teens through to adults, enjoy working with animals, so the therapy has particular benefits for patients who find it hard to open up emotionally. In some cases, it has been found that successful animal therapy can even reduce the need for medication.
Sadly, the current coronavirus pandemic and lockdown in the UK is putting many animal therapy centres under threat of closure. Ironically, the isolation caused by the COVID-19 outbreak is making patients’ mental health conditions worse – but currently, they can’t benefit from the very animal therapy that improves their emotional wellbeing.
As a result, the centres are struggling because of a lack of funding. Many of them operate as charities, with no government funding, while some are able to access small grants, due to their medical benefits.
Now, with no patients and no income, they are having to appeal through online funding campaigns for donations. They desperately need money and animal food, so they can afford to feed and care for their therapy animals during the current crisis.
One at-risk centre is Talons Owltimate Encounters, based on a farm near Looe, Cornwall. The community interest company specialises in stimulation therapy for elderly people and for those with dementia, special needs, learning disabilities and physical disabilities.
Talons’ bosses have issued a desperate appeal for the public to help save their massive collection of animals and birds, which they are struggling to feed. Their therapy animals include horses, donkeys, sheep, wallabies, alpacas, guinea pigs, owls, rheas and reptiles.
They have set up an urgent crowdfunding campaign called Help Save Talons and have also launched an Amazon Wishlist for supporters to buy smaller items such as bedding, hay, small animal food, treats, heat lamps and cleaning products. The costs of feeding the animals and the vets’ bills are normally covered by visits, special events and public fundraisers, none of which can be held at present.
Now, with nothing in the coffers, the centre has no idea how long it can continue and has launched its appeal in desperation, stating on its fundraising page, “We really don’t know what else to do.”
Nearby charity, the Flicka Foundation, is an equine centre in Penryn. Suffering similar problems, the current lockdown has been described as a “devastating blow” that “seriously threatens” its future.
It costs £3,500 a month just to feed all the animals, without vets’ bills and other needs. The charity is asking people to Adopt a Donkey to help them survive the current crisis, although any donation, big or small, would be put to very good use.
Bristol-based animal therapy charity Paws For Wellbeing matches volunteers and animals with older and socially isolated people to enhance their quality of life. The charity says the coronavirus pandemic has led to the temporary closure of its services and there is no inkling of when they can reopen.
The local press are doing their best to publicise the plight of struggling animal therapy centres during these difficult times.
As great animal lovers ourselves, the Page1 team is urging anyone who is able to dig deep and lend a helping hand to our local animal charities. The work they do is incredible – and they need us right now, guys!