Rabbits and dogs visiting old people's homes and even in hospitals, horses and dolphins as therapists for children with severe disabilities and critically ill patients - a therapeutic approach is slowly gaining acceptance. Since about the beginning of the 60s, the therapy with animals is scientifically researched, but already much earlier one has used animals, in order to positively influence the health of humans.
Dog, cat & Co. support therapies
Very slowly and carefully Klara M., 82, touches the Golden Retriever bitch Senta on the head, stroking the silky fur - and smiles for the first time in months. Klara M. lives in a nursing home, where animal visits are specifically used for therapeutic purposes.
The association "Animals help people eV" has organized this visit program. The initiative has meanwhile established numerous contacts with people throughout Germany who organize such dog research groups. Some institutions have their own domestic cat, which is used deliberately in the elderly care. And in other old people's homes, residents are even allowed to keep their own animals, unless medical reasons such as allergies speak against it.
Animal therapy in the hospital
In the Anthroposophical Community Hospital in Herdecke (NRW) sheep are kept and cared for in the clinic's own grounds by patients who do not have to take care of their bed during the day. Men and women suffering from multiple sclerosis sit on horses - Hippotherapy is the name given to this form of physiotherapy, in which not only nerves, muscles and joints, but also increasingly the emotions are addressed.
In Herdecke, severely ill children with chronic diseases are even prescribed contact with horses as "mental medicine".
History of animal-assisted therapies
Since about the beginning of the 60s, the therapy with animals is scientifically researched, but already much earlier one has used animals, in order to positively influence the health of humans.
A famous example is "York Retreat" in England, founded in 1792 by William Tuke. An institution for the mentally ill who cultivated gardens and kept small animals. In Germany, animals were deliberately used in the epileptic center in Bethel in the 19th century - to calm and employ the patients accommodated there.
Possible uses for animals for therapeutic purposes
The current examples of possible uses of the therapy animals are numerous:
- In the "Quality Handbook on Living with Dementia" of the Kuratorium Deutsche Altershilfe, a dog manages to "open doors" to people with dementia in nursing homes who barely reign supreme.
- Specially trained dogs help handicapped people to autonomously master their lives.
- Behaviorally disturbed children develop self-confidence in dealing with four-legged friends and learn to reduce fear of contact.
- In around 140 German hospitals, specially trained animals are tolerated at hospital wards or used in therapies.
The Robert Koch Institute now advocates animal husbandry in nursing homes and visiting services in hospitals: "However, if you weigh the risks and benefits against each other, the positive impact on wellbeing through pet ownership is clearly higher defined conditions in nursing homes and hospitals. "
Animals in life crises
Professor Reinhold Bergler from the University of Bonn showed in a study that cats can help in managing life crises. Out of 150 people, all in an acute crisis situation, half lived without a pet, the other half with a cat. Of those without a pet, almost two-thirds sought the help of a professional psychotherapist, none of the cat owners.
Cats, as explained by Bergler, donate joie de vivre as well as consolation and serve as a catalyst in dealing with a problem. While the non-beasts displaced the critical events, cat owners were able to actively process the experience after the naturally occurring negative feelings at the beginning of a crisis and developed a more positive attitude.
Pet owners live healthier
An Australian study from 1992 shows that pet owners have lower health risk factors such as increased blood lipid levels and elevated blood pressure. They suffer less from cardiovascular disease - a result of regular exercise.
In humans, who are prone to frequent mood swings or depression, animals can even provide therapeutic help.
Animals influence emotions
Methods such as hippotherapy are now undisputed in research. Especially in spasticity as a result of early childhood brain damage, multiple sclerosis and other diseases of the central nervous system, the effects are clearly observable.
Studies and observations on the use of dogs and cats in psychiatry and geriatric care show that animals always manage to make people laugh. The mood brightens and depression is counteracted.
Responsibility for an animal has a stabilizing effect
Animals increase the motivation of people, encourage them to activities and regulate the daily routine. They displace feelings of loneliness by their mere presence and can fill emotional gaps, such as the loss of a close relative.
It has also been proven that the responsibility for an animal prevents people from committing suicide. It is precisely this responsibility that has a stabilizing effect on older people in particular, as it structures the daily routine. In addition, the duties associated with an animal must be exercised, regardless of the current mood and mood.