Therapy Animals

While most people respond positively to dogs and horses, other animals are used in assisted therapy programs. Cats, guinea pigs, birds, and fish help people with physical and emotional problems.

More and more hospitals are opening their doors to organizations, allowing them to bring pets in to visit sick and terminally ill patients. Depending on the illness, the person with the pet can either approach the patient or stand near the door of the patient's room. The goal, which is often achieved, is to brighten the patient's day.

Animals are also used in prisons and detention centers for juveniles. Hardened personalities can soften when caring for an animal. For example, in a maximum security hospital for the criminally insane, a patient who refused to speak was given a pet bird. The bird lived in a cage next to the man. After being with the bird, he started talking to it. Then he started conversing with the staff and other patients.


Pets can lower one's blood pressure level. The University of Maryland Hospital conducted a study that proved heart patients with pets had a better chance of surviving after they left the hospital than those who did not have pets. The study, which was conducted in 1995, involved 392 people and discovered that heart attack patients with dogs were eight times more likely to be alive a year after their attack than people without dogs.

People go into this field because they want to help others and because they want to work with animals. Many hospitals use volunteers to bring in therapeutic animals. However, due to the positive effects the animals have on patients, the field is growing for professionals.

People interested in working with therapeutic animals should have a degree in social work with a minor in animal studies. Taking psychology courses also helps. If you want to be an executive director of an animal assisted therapy program, management courses are important.

Check with the numerous programs to find the training that's best for you, and, as advised for other careers, volunteer first to see if this is really what you want to do.

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