Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Animal therapy

I can't remember if I mentioned this before, but a few months ago I tried to enroll my cat Lewis in a program for animal therapy - that is, animals who are brought to hospitals and assisted living communities in order to help boost the spirits of those living there. Lewis is very friendly and laid back, so I thought he might be a good candidate. They also told me that they have a very strong need for cats - especially in nursing homes.

Unfortunately, Lewis didn't pass the stress test. We went to a dog training facility and I think all the smells, the new environment, and everything was just too much. Lewis was very scared and not calm (though, he didn't bite or scratch). The people in charge did say that he could probably be a good candidate, and they encouraged me to get him out more and come back if he starts doing better in new situations. I haven't really done anything to further this, because to be honest I'm not sure what to do. However, if you have a cat (or a dog!) that is good with people, I highly recommend pursuing something similar to this! If you live in Atlanta, you can contact Happy Tails Pet Therapy.

I am sad about how this worked out for Lewis and me, but I know that a lot of people are able to successfully do this - especially if you have a dog! I was thinking about this when I read an article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution called Canine caregivers help autistic kids. An excerpt:
Before they got Ajax [the assistive dog], Jennifer Plunk said, Matthew was prone to darting away, especially if he became frightened or upset. And when he was in the middle of a meltdown, behavior common in children suffering from Asperger's syndrome such as Matthew, he was inconsolable.

Not with Ajax. He's trained to recognize the situation, and he moves in to nuzzle 7-year-old Matthew to avert the behavior.

Matthew was diagnosed with Asperger's at age 3. He was socially aloof and moved constantly, Plunk said... When she saw a news special about assistive dogs, she knew then that "this could be something huge for Matthew." Within months of receiving Ajax last year, Plunk said, Matthew started to change.

I love how pets are used to help people with disabilities. The group that trained Ajax, the dog featured in the article is called 4 Paws for Ability. I think this is a really neat program. I encourage you to go to their website and read more about them! I am not very experienced in this area, but I am definitely a supporter of animals being used to help humans in this way.


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