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Animal companions: A time tested therapy

by Amanda Miller
| December 3, 2010 8:00 PM

Humans have long viewed animals as companions and healers. Prehistoric cave drawings and ancient Egyptian burials with animals depict this fondness for our furry friends. The successful use of animals in therapeutic settings has also been documented for centuries. As early as the 9th century in Gheel, Belgium, animals were used in a therapy program for people with disabilities.

However, it wasn't until the 1960's that the term "pet therapy" was coined by Boris Levinson, a child psychiatrist. He discovered that communication with a nonverbal child improved when his dog was present. Levinson wrote extensively on pet therapy and since then, many researchers have expanded on his work.

Today, pet therapy is a research-supported and accepted alternative therapy. Some of the most famous research on pet therapy occurred in the 1980's in nursing homes. Patients showed improvement in happiness, alertness, responsiveness, and optimism with regular interactions with dogs.

Hospice of North Idaho recognizes the positive impact that animals have on those experiencing illness. When local veterinarian Dr. David DeLong passed away in 2008, his friends and family came forward to help create Hospice of North Idaho's companion/therapy animal program "Pet Pals" in his honor. In this all-volunteer program, our clients receive a positive, interactive experience with our certified therapy dogs. These interactions bring comfort, companionship and emotional solace to our clients and their loved ones.

For information on becoming a Pet Pals volunteer: (208) 772-7994. All dog handlers must complete Hospice of North Idaho's volunteer training and dogs must complete a nationally recognized certification test and pass a veterinary health exam.

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