The Healing Power of Pets

A unique American organization, Helping Hands Monkeys, trains monkeys to help paralyzed people function better in their daily lives. Many who are paralyzed spend hours each day by themselves, so the monkeys can be important in helping them get along without professional caregivers as well as a source of companionship. The monkeys bring food and drinks, help feed the paralyzed person, pick things up that are out of reach, put on a CD or video, and turn lights on and off.

While monkeys are exceptional in the what they can do, all kinds of pets have a positive, healing effect on their owners. Studies reveal that having a pet is a better remedy against high blood pressure than commonly prescribed medications. A pet appears to be the strongest social indicator in predicting recovery from a serious heart condition. More and more often, doctors prescribe a pet for loneliness, depression, stress and other emotional problems. In the United States, half of all doctors reported they sometimes prescribe a pet to their patients.

Studies show that older people with pets pay considerably fewer visits to the doctor. Up to 16 percent less, according to professor Judith Siegel of the School of Public Health at the University of California. That percentage is even higher for dog owners, reaching over 20 percent. According to Australian research, the presence of house pets in households saves the Australian government some 800 million to 1.5 billion US dollars a year in health costs.

Psychologists have long realized the healing power of pets. In the 1950s child psychologist Boris Levinson often had difficulty reaching his traumatized patients, until the day that his dog Jingles wandered into the treatment room, His young clients were pleased and spontaneously opened themselves up to the dog, and thus also to Levinson. He was the first to write about “the dog as co-therapist.”

Forty years later, many therapists make grateful use of the intimate bond between humans and animals. People experience pets as non-judgmental and unconditional in their affection, and so clients often consider the animal an ally, which helps foster a spirit of mutual trust and open sharing in therapy sessions. Because animals are often funny or endearing, they help dissipate the tension around a therapy session. Children, in particular, often talk more easily to an animal than a human. Sometimes all the therapist has to do is bring up an issue and then observe where the child and animal take it.

There are countless well-documented examples of successful animal-assisted therapy. A little boy who begins to heal his partially paralyzed hand by petting a dog. Abused children and prisoners who train a dog to learn how to not repeat the abusive behavior they have experienced. Autistic children who learn to communicate through contact with dolphins.

Animals have the potential to play a much greater role, particularly in hospitals and care institutions. A friendly dog can perform miracles with critically ill patients. Even a few fish in a fishbowl helps ease tensions in a dentist’s waiting room. Research has repeatedly shown that taking care of an animal (or even a plant) makes people happier and helps them live longer. Could this be because animals and plants can listen so well without ever contradicting us? A study of Canadian doctors once discovered that listening is the most important ingredient in healing. Dr. Samuel Corson, an expert in the area of animal therapy at Ohio State University puts it this way: “A dog is man’s best friend because he wags his tail and not his tongue.”

Ode, the magazine for Intelligent Optimists, is an international independent journal that publishes positive news, about the people and ideas that are changing our world for the better. Click here for your FREE issue.

By Tijn Touber, Ode magazine


Carol Roe
Carol R7 years ago

My sister has had 4 great pyreness. She says her 1st saved her life.

King Jack
Past Member 7 years ago

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Eliza D.
Past Member 8 years ago

I am convinced that my dogs have saved my sanity throughout the years of raising a teenager … and I don’t have to tell them to turn down the music and take off their headphones when I want to communicate with them!

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Bobbie D.
Past Member 8 years ago

Animals are great in many types of therapies and assistance. I volunteer with a group that brings trained pyreness into the school to work with remedial readers and handicap children. It's amazing to see what a role this dog plays in helping these kids!

Sue A.
Susan A8 years ago

oh yes, they heal. And has anyone else noticed how heavy a small cat is when pinning you down under the duvet?

Brad C.
Brad C8 years ago

I have a registered Bug, half Pug half Boston Terrier. At a rehab center where my ex worked they allowed him to come in twice a week to visit the patients in recovery. The best response came from the brain injury patients. They very much looked forward to his visits every week. The doctors and nurses said they could see a big difference in the patients on visitation days. We always limited the visits to one hour to keep the stress level down not only for patients but for (Boston) the pet also. He always had fun and seemed to enjoy the extra attention from the patients and nurses. I think that this is something needed in all long term facilities.

heather g.
heather g8 years ago

I don't like the idea of monkeys being trained. They are not pets but wild animals and yet ANOTHER animal which is not indigeous to North America. As for removing their teeth - I guess they would bite when abused. Shocking news and certainly a cause about which I would sign a petition!
We all know the healing powers of pets, especially the benefits for those of us who are older and live on our own. Dogs ensure that seniors get out and exercise and socialise - that's why our Canadian senior's centre doesn't allow any pets! Unfortunately, that says a lot for their lack of care for our wellbeing and health.

Julie Foutch
Past Member 8 years ago

This a true statement as i have four pugs and they have been my angels,they have this way of healing a broken heart and helping you love again,they seem to know when you need them the most.My life has been enriched by having them in my life,that's why i now rescue them my life is whole because of these little miracle angels.

Helen Laray
Helen Laray8 years ago

I applaud the people who have animals and love them and care for them; I think a lot of people are very selfish to the point of being mean by getting rid of the animal under the guise of "the animal did something wrong." They would not take the time or trouble to find out why the animal acted that way (maybe a family member abused it, etc.) If you get an animal, you should commit to treating it humanely as you would treat any family member.

Eric Haaranen
Eric Haaranen8 years ago

Yes, that’s right. I also noticed how the pets have this healing power. Because of their nature, they make people alive in doing things. and also, they entertain people who we’re tired or stress of work.

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