If you’re an animal lover, you already know how much better you feel after spending time with a sweet cat, a loving dog, or another cuddly animal. The latest trend in alternative therapy is pet therapy, where people who once struggled with substance abuse or who are fighting serious illnesses spend time with animals trained to provide comfort. Can spending time with an animal post-rehab help you relax and feel more optimistic?
How Pet Therapy Works
According to several respected independent sources including the Mayo Clinic, pet therapy significantly improves symptoms associated with anxiety, depression, and fatigue. Pet therapy has also demonstrated effectiveness in pain therapy, and clinicians are using specially trained animals in settings as diverse as children’s dental offices and veterans hospitals that treat patients with post-traumatic stress disorder. Pet therapy also helps people feel better who suffer from heart disease and cancer treatment — it can even help family members relax.
Individuals who leave residential substance abuse rehab sometimes feel anxious or overwhelmed about the challenges they’ll face. Those who spend time with animals may find the post-rehab experience more relaxing, enjoyable, and distracting — attributes essential for maintaining sobriety.
Getting the Most Out of Pet Therapy
Although there are many animals well suited for pet therapy, choosing the right program or animal maximizes success. Only purchase or adopt an animal if you are prepared to make at least a 10 year commitment, and sometimes longer, depending on the breed. In many ways, animals are just like children — they require love, attention, training, medical care, and sitting services if you’ll be away for an extended period of time. If you work full-time and live alone, or if you live with small children, you’ll need to pay special attention to securing the pet that’s right for your situation.
There are also several options for people who aren’t ready to make a commitment to ownership. Investigate local animal-assisted therapy programs to see if you’re eligible. If not, try volunteering at a local animal shelter. Whatever you choose, make sure there are safeguards in place to protect your health and well being. The best choice is a place that offers vaccinated animals that are behavior-tested and clean — and that carefully screens applicants for ownership.
For more information about finding a program, or about adopting an animal, contact the American Humane Association or the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.