The Human-Animal Connection
To many, animals offer a sense of comfort and support. Man’s best friend is a term we commonly hear when referring to dogs, and can even apply to other beloved pets. There is nothing quite like a wagging tail, a purr, or a subtle nudge that fills us with a sense of joy or calm. The unconditional love a pet can offer us can bring us so much more than just companionship.
Research shows that our relationships with animals can also offer us immense health benefits. Petting a dog or cat has been shown to release a potent cocktail of relaxing hormones, including the reduction of cortisol levels, otherwise known as the “stress hormone.” Interactions with animals have also been shown to reduce blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels as well. On top of the physical benefits, animals/pets often reduce feelings of loneliness, increase feelings of support and offer a mood boost overall. They can also promote responsibility, as knowing how to care for and feed an animal and prioritizing their well-being is part of owning a pet.
Animals also have a strong sense of intuition. They are very sensitive to noticing a change in a person’s demeanor, especially when experiencing stress or fear. Therapy dogs are especially good at sensing this, allowing them to better provide a sense of comfort and safety. They’re often brought into hospitals, nursing homes, and schools to help reduce people’s stress and anxiety. Work with therapy animals is commonly used in trauma and individual work to provide a working relationship to establish trust, promote mindfulness and teach valuable skills.
I was inspired by research and the impact of the many benefits of time with animals as a therapist. I worked to invest time into training to become properly educated as an Animal Assisted Intervention specialist to incorporate the use of this into my practice. In my work with my therapy dog, Rocky, I have seen immense benefits in just having him in the presence of clients, seemingly providing a catalyst for therapeutic breakthroughs. Rocky serves as a way to provide a sense of comfort, support, and overall ease to feelings of anxiety in clients. He is also a tool to promote grounding skills, guided breathing, and teach boundaries (plus, he gives great hugs).
As a reminder, therapy animals, emotional support animals, and service animals are not the same thing. While the use of Emotional support animals has grown in recent years, it is important to make sure you are properly educated on what an ESA is and is not, and determine if you and your animal of choice are a good fit for this.
In times of sadness, fear, or uncertainty, animals can bring us a sense of comfort and a way to facilitate coping with life’s many stressors. It is important to honor and respect the beautiful bond that is the human-animal connection. So, go ahead and embrace your furry friend today with the love and gratitude they offer us everyday.
Blog and photo by Emma Doan, MA RYT-200
Certified Animal Assisted Intervention Specialist