Research has shown that pets can be beneficial to people’s health in many ways. This knowledge is being put to good use in a number of areas.
Pets Make Good Visitors
Dogs, and to a lesser extent cats and other small animals, are increasingly being allowed into hospitals and other care facilities. Even before any scientific studies, many pet owners and medical workers were aware of the obvious emotional benefits to the sick and elderly, of visits with animals.
Now research has quantified the actual physical benefits. In a study published in 2006, cardiac patients were shown to have reduced blood pressure, lower levels of stress hormones and improved heart and lung function from as little as twelve minutes of exposure to a dog.
Delta Society Promotes Pet Therapy
The therapeutic use of animals has been increasing thanks in no small part to one non-profit group.
The Delta Society is a national organization that started in Portland, Oregon in 1977. It’s founders wanted to understand the nature of the human-animal bond, and how and why animals are important to the health and well being of people.
From the research and studies they did, the Delta Society began looking for ways that animals could improve the lives of the ill and disabled.
In the last decade, they have developed standards for evaluating pets and their owners, and for running Animal Assisted therapy programs in various institutions.
The Delta Society has affiliates in many cities. These groups often provide evaluation and training for owners interested in volunteering as a Pet Partner.
Once you and your pet pass an evaluation, you may register with the Delta Society as a Pet Partner.Although there is no legal requirement to be registered, or to take the training, both have many benefits.
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Special Training Needed
The training prepares you and your dog for the various situations you may encounter in your volunteer work. Working with a qualified and experienced instructor, you will be able to determine if you and your pet are indeed suited for the work, and when you are ready to work on your own.
Not all animals will be right for the job. Those that are aggressive or fearful generally are not suited to therapy work. Membership in the Delta Society includes liability insurance that covers you while you are doing volunteer work as a Pet Partner. It also offers some credibility to the institution you are working with.
Find the Right Venue
Facilities interested in volunteers include hospitals, nursing homes and rehabilitation programs. Pets can also be used in reading programs.
Any animal can be a therapy pet, providing they have the right temperament and can pass the evaluation. To be a “therapy pet”, the animal must meet certain requirements.
First off they must be screened by your vet and meet specific criteria, including passing a general exam, having up to date vaccinations and be free from parasites. Animals with physical disabilities may still meet the necessary criteria to be accepted into the program.
Not All Animals Suited for Job
The animals also must meet certain behavioral and temperament standards.
The Pet Partners Skills Test (PPST) is based on the AKC’s Good Citizen test. Both tests evaluate the dog and handler for basic skills, such as following basic commands, accepting overtures from a friendly stranger, walking on leash (for dogs) and remaining under control in distracting situations.
In addition, the PPST further tests the animal’s reaction to wheelchairs and walkers, and to behaviors likely to be encountered in a hospital or nursing home environment.
These behaviors may include petting by a number of people at once, clumsy or over-exuberant petting and loud or excited outbursts.
The handler will also be evaluated for his or her skills in interacting with patients and control of his pet.
The Delta Society also offers a home-study course for therapy dogs if you cannot attend classes.