What is Animal-Assisted Therapy for humans?
If you’re a long-time pet lover, you understand that there’s nothing new about animal-assisted therapy. The medical world is simply catching on to an idea you’ve known about for years. You understand the concept because your pet has always been your companion, your friend, and your sidekick. Like a therapist, your cat or dog is comforting during stressful times.
Studies prove that animal-assisted therapy works
A Psychology Today article, “Animal-Assisted Therapy,” reviewed the results of studies where animal-assisted therapy improved patients’ medical and behavioral issues. Also, other studies confirmed that animals helped those suffering from depression and emotional issues.
In an NCBI-published “Heart Views” article, Cardiologist Dr. Rachel Hajar discussed human/pet connections. Archeological evidence dating back to 10,000 BC confirms that humans and their pets have always maintained special relationships. As a result, Dr. Hajar credits pet interactions with cortisol reductions, an increase in serotonin, and lower instances of cardiac-related fatalities.
How does animal-assisted therapy work?
Psychotherapist and other care providers are acknowledging what pet owners have always known. Simply interacting with cats, dogs, birds, and even horses can be a healing experience. Because pets provide a calming presence, a feeling of safety, and other benefits. The programs vary.
- Most animal-assisted therapy programs use dogs.
- Some programs breed pets specifically for use in therapy.
- Some agencies train pets to qualify for certification.
- Organizations such as Pet Partners train volunteer humans and/ or their pets to provide therapy services.
- Hospitals and other professional care centers allow patient interactions with therapy pets.
What about using your own pet?
Some owners now self-designate their pets as “support animals.” That’s great when you’re in your own home. Unfortunately, you can’t always assume that businesses will allow your pet to accompany you wherever you go. Your legal rights are very specific.
The “Americans With Disabilities Act” does not define “support animals.” It requires businesses to accept only dogs under the “service animal” designation.
ADA guidelines specify that only disabled people have access to service animal rights granted under the law. The law includes anxiety, PTSD, and other emotional disabilities within its disabled definition. The ADA also has special provisions for trained miniature ponies.
- Connecticut does not specifically define disabilities.
- If a disabled person has only temporary custody of a service animal (dog), they must still obtain a license.
- For an initial service animal license, the person with custody must prove that a dog has been properly trained
Traveling with your support animal
First, documentation requirements vary from state to state. Secondly, it’s a good idea to find out about the laws before you travel to a new destination. Lastly, airlines must comply with specific ADA guidelines. The US Department of Transportation recently clarified these requirements.
American Airlines and other carriers are changing their guidelines for service and support animals. If you haven’t flown recently, you should check with your airline before you fly.