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De-stress with pets: Animal therapy is for the dogs, cats, horses and pigs

Jul 22, 2017 | Lifestyles

(Welcome to the weekly pet column of Pet Connection Programs Inc. of Marilla, N.Y. A new article is posted each week, so be sure to check back on a regular basis!)

There’s no doubt about it: Owning a pet is good for your health. 

Pet Market Outlook 2017-2018, a recent report by market research firm Packaged Facts, shows that 95 percent of dog owners and 94 percent of cat owners agree that their pets have a positive impact on their mental health. Similarly, 95 percent of dog owners and 90 percent of cat owners agree that their pets have a positive impact on their physical health. 

Pet Market Outlook examines the consumer trends reflective of pets’ stress-relief capabilities that are helping to shape the U.S. pet market. Among the most important takeaways is that a pet’s stress-relief capabilities aren’t exclusive to the animal’s owner(s), nor is the ability to provide stress relief exclusive to popular household pets such as dogs and cats. And retailers and marketers are taking notice.

For example, this past May, PetSmart became the first national pet specialty retailer to launch a dog therapy training course. The program is for pet owners interested in giving back to their pets. The training course prepares dogs for their “Therapy Dog” evaluation, provided by organizations such as Pet Partners and the Alliance of Therapy Dogs, after which registered dogs can support people at senior living facilities, hospitals, funeral homes and other places.

These days you can even find pets trained to help anxious Americans in some rather unexpected locales. For instance, dozens of airports have canine therapy teams helping passengers decompress. Some airports have even added non-canine therapists such as pot-bellied pigs or miniature therapy horses. The increased inclusion of the latter of these two novel therapy animals — horses — has been one of the key saving graces for an otherwise challenged equine industry.

As Packaged Facts discussed in its 2017 report U.S. Equine Market, 3rd Edition, horse therapy (also referred to as equine therapy, equine-assisted therapy, and equine-assisted psychotherapy) is a form of experiential therapy that involves interactions between patients and horses. It is similar to how therapy dogs and cats are used to help humans with emotional and physical ailments to recover more quickly. Equine therapy typically involves activities — such as grooming, feeding, haltering and leading a horse — that are supervised by a health professional, with the support of a horse professional. The goal of equine therapy is to help patients develop needed skills and attributes, including accountability, responsibility, self-confidence, problem-solving skills and self-control. Equine therapy also provides an innovative environment in which the therapist and the patient can identify and address challenges.

Studies have shown that equine therapy has been successful in helping patients show marked improvements in assertiveness, emotional awareness, problem-solving skills and social responsibility. Many of the benefits of equine therapy are likely due to the nature of the animals with which the patient and equine therapist are interacting. Because of the horse’s natural traits, which include a non-judgmental disposition and an ability to mirror attitudes and behaviors of the humans with whom they are working, they are ideal therapy partners. This type of therapy has helped to successfully treat a variety of issues, including substance abuse, mood disorders, autism spectrum disorders, grief/loss and trauma.
— PRNewswire

(For more information on pets and animal adoption, please visit www.petconnectionprogramsinc.com. Or, visit their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/PetConnectionProgramsinc. Located in Marilla, N.Y., Pet Connection Programs Inc. is a nonprofit maternity and special care shelter founded in 1984.)

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