Fostering Human-Animal Connections as Therapy

April 09, 2020

While physically distancing from loved ones can be challenging, people are finding ways to remain socially connected even while being apart. Animals and their impact on our lives offer a variety of therapeutic value, improving our health and happiness and play a significant role in creating caring environments. Those of us who own pets or have lived with animals know they bring us so much joy and unconditional love. Animals make us laugh and smile in addition to providing comfort when we are sick or upset.

The therapeutic use of animals is a broad concept that includes phrases like animal-assisted therapy, animal-assisted activities, companion animals, resident animals, and service animals. Those of us who own animals have our pet names and consider our animals to be a member of our family. The use of animals to improve the lives of people living with disabilities, including those living with dementia, have a wide variety of benefits. There are benefits of animal-assisted Interactions for people living with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia-related illnesses such as:

▸ Provide Comfort and Companionship

▸ Enhance positive emotions and elevate mood

▸ Offer emotional support for grief and a distraction from stress

▸ Improve physical mobility and increase range of motion

▸ Enhance feelings of safety and provide opportunities for touch and affection

▸ Enhance self-confidence and outward interactions

▸ Reduce symptoms of stress and anxiety

▸ Decrease feelings of loneliness and isolation

I have been working with pet Therapy organizations for years to provide this service and opportunities to my clients, as part of a weekly routine that cultivates a connection and a special bond. One company that I have been working with for over 12 years is the Good Dog Foundation. The Good Dog Foundation is the only organization in NYC and provides certified therapy dog teams to over 200 partner facilities in the Metro New York area free of charge. Pet Partners, it is also great resource and provides some wonderful volunteer opportunities and helpful information.

Since we can’t see them in person these days, we have started virtual pet therapy sessions on Facetime, WhatsApp, and Marco Polo. One of our newest partners, and her kids, are creating personalized greeting cards with photos. They are also sending us  “trading cards” with Dodger’s picture and fun facts to send to us in the mail. We are very much looking forward to that. Our dear friend Laura and her dog CeCe, who have been coming to see us for three years, made this excellent video GIF to share with others.

My clients are so fortunate to have connected to so many beautiful dogs like CeCe, Presley, Harmony, and Dodger and their excellent and dedicated owners.  

So, if you're inside and you miss the comforting companionship of animals, here are a few suggestions for how to keep animals in your world and continue to receive the love and comfort they provide. 

1.  Stream or watch some animal-related programs that make you smile and laugh. You can watch thousands for free on YouTube. Stream documentaries such as Planet Earth, The Blue Planet, March of the Penguins, or tune in to TV stations like National Geographic, Nat Geo Wild, Animal Planet, and other animal lover shows on Netflix, Hulu, and other streaming services. You can watch the top 50 Netflix Show and Documentaries for Animal LoversThe Pet Collective is home to the top trending clips, most entertaining memes, and funniest animal videos online. You can also entertain yourself with this unique Llama Video.

2.  Here are some comforting companion animal products you can buy online for your loved one to hold, watch, and engage. They are great for repetitive engagement programming, tactile stimulation, and sensory-stimulation for individuals in the middle to later stages of Alzheimer’s disease. They are also beneficial as comforting transitional objects. Life-like comfort companion cats and dogs by Perfect Petzzz on Amazon. Another alternative is to support the Alzheimer’s Association Store by purchasing one of these companion animals

3.  You can print pictures and place them in a binder or photo album if you prefer something tangible. You can also make your animal photo cards to hold. Use old animal calendars and cut them up. You can purchase animal flashcards, print photos from your computer, or you can make animal books yourself! 

4.  Encourage your family and friends to send photos or videos of your loved one’s favorite animals to warm your heart and rekindle memories. Use apps like Marco Polo, Facebook, WhatsApp, and other social media platforms to share your videos and photos. Create folders on your tablet or phone to easily access photos and videos. 

Here is one video I made with my cat Minou! I hope it brightens your day!

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