Friday, January 11, 2013

Hero Pets

From rescue dogs to furry companions who curl up beside us when we feel all alone, pets have a way of being there when it seems that the rest of the world has walked out. Pets are often used as therapy for people in need, such as the elderly or terminally ill patients. Their unconditional love and acceptance provide comfort and companionship to many of us.

Healing Pets

A speech therapist in California takes her pet, a pot-bellied pig named Buttercup, right into the classroom where she helps special-needs students to come out of their shells. Many children, and adults, feel an instant bond of trust with animals, which can draw them out when they might not be trusting enough to talk to other kids or adults. Buttercup helped one little boy to start talking to other students in his class for the first time.

Many rehabilitation centers and nursing homes keep pets on site for their patients. This is especially helpful when people are undergoing painful treatment or therapy. A little girl who suffers from an autoimmune deficiency and receives painful treatments is able to talk to the dog, Vi, who lives on site. She can tell the dog things that she isn't able to tell anyone else. Her parents also have a dog at home for her and she is able to share her stories with him.

Pets for the Elderly

It might seem crazy to think that talking to a pet who cannot understand us or respond in our language could help us, but sometimes it's just the sense that someone is listening that helps the most. Sometimes we all need someone to just listen, without giving advice or their own story, just someone to sit beside us and let us get it all out.

Lizzie, mom's cat, is what companion pets are all about.
She sits with my mom, listens to her and gives my mom a
feeling of being needed.
My mom suffers from dementia and expressive aphasia, she is unable to articulate the thoughts she has in her head. It can be very frustrating for both of us when we are trying to communicate. Mom often says the beginning of a sentence perfectly, but then messes up the last word or thought, the part that would make the whole statement make sense! I often hear her talking to our three cats and just telling them whole stories that make no sense to me, but the thing is, they don't need it to make sense. They just give my mom that room to talk and tell her story her way and they curl up beside her and listen to her without judgement or questions. Companion pets offer more than pet ownership, they are there with her when she needs someone to just sit by her side and let her talk.

Elderly people who adopt or save dogs through a rescue often report feeling less lonely, have improved morale, feel more independent and get more exercise. They may also experience lower blood pressure because pets can help people to manage stress more effectively. To find a local animal shelter, just enter "local animal shelter" plus your city and state in your browser's search box. Shelters might ask you to meet certain criteria before allowing you to adopt, for example, they might want to know the name of your veterinarian and some recent pet ownership, if available.

Hero dogs are good therapy for people recovering
from illness or injury.
When my uncle Ed suffered a heart attack that resulted in his being in a coma for nearly two months, we were not sure what his life would be like if / or when he regained consciousness. The doctors could not predict how much brain damage might have been done. When he came to, he made a lot of progress, but he needed to stay in a rehabilitation center to learn how to walk and move muscles that had atrophied during the time he was in the coma. He always talks about the day his family brought his dog, Choco, to the rehab for a visit. Choco was a rescue dog who had been abused by former owners. He was missing one eye and was easily startled by people. When my uncle adopted him, they became each other's best friends. For my uncle, knowing that Choco was waiting for him at home and looking forward to his return, gave him the extra incentive to get better.

Pets for Vets

Medical research shows that, for some sufferers of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), pets can help to relieve stress, raise self esteem and increase satisfaction with life. Returning veterans may experience symptoms of PTSD such as depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts. Unfortunately, many vets also experience a high rate of family abuse, unemployment and a loss of interest in life. Companion pets may be able to help service men and women who are dealing with PTSD.

Pets for Vets is an organization that rescues dogs and cats and adopts them out to service men and women in need. This gives hero dogs and cats a second chance at life who might otherwise be euthanized, and helps some of the nearly 20% of veterans who suffer from PTSD. Patriot Paws trains and provides service dogs to veterans at no cost. These dogs can get help if there's an emergency, pull a wheelchair or even open a door!

If you're wondering how you can make a difference in the life of a returning veteran or an elderly neighbor or family member, remember the Power of Paws! If you have a dog, ask an elderly neighbor to come with you on your walk, or volunteer your time with a local agency that trains companion pets. Remember, our furry friends are happy to lend a paw to someone in need.

Caroline Carr
Contributing Writer

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