Click to Skip Ahead:
- What Is It?
- What Do Therapy Animals Do?
- Can I Volunteer with My Pet?
- How to Celebrate
Therapy animals make a huge difference in so many people’s lives on a daily basis. In recognition of all the good they do in the community, therapy animal organization Pet Partners created National Therapy Animal Day, which is celebrated every year on April 30.
In this post, we’ll give you the lowdown on what National Therapy Animal Day is, ways to celebrate it, and why therapy animals are so important.
National Therapy Animal Day Explained
Pet Partners is a leading therapy animal organization in the United States. Its mission is to positively impact people’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being with the help of therapy animals. The organization believes strongly in the power of the human-animal bond and strives to use this to strengthen communities and bring comfort to people going through challenging times.
For this purpose, it registers various species as therapy animals to go out into the community with their owners. Species that can currently be registered are cats, dogs, rabbits, horses, birds, miniature pigs, guinea pigs, rats, alpacas, and llamas.
On April 30, 2023, Pet Partners celebrated its ninth annual National Therapy Day, an event it launched to recognize the life-changing work therapy animals and their handlers do. It was also created with the goal of educating people about the importance of therapy animals and the benefits of human-animal interactions.
What Do Therapy Animals Do?
The concept of therapy animals has been around for a lot longer than some may expect. The ancient Greeks employed horses to comfort sick people and later, in medieval Belgium, it was commonplace to treat humans and animals alongside one another. This practice has continued throughout history, and famous figures including Florence Nightingale and Dr. Sigmund Freud have recognized its benefits.
Today, therapy animals and their handlers are volunteers that go into a number of environments, including schools, hospitals, and assisted living facilities to interact with people who have physical or psychological health conditions or those experiencing trauma, stress, and/or anxiety. In a nutshell, the purpose of these visits is to help people experiencing these issues feel better.
What Are the Benefits of Animal Therapy?
Being around animals has a wide range of benefits, including anxiety and stress reduction caused by an increase in oxytocin (the mood-boosting hormone) and a decrease in cortisol (the stress hormone).
Therapy animals can also help with emotional regulation, mood elevation, and social support. They do a great job of bridging the gap in situations when a person feels more comfortable connecting with animals than other people. According to the results of one study, animal therapy may reduce pain and aid recovery for those who have been through surgery or have been injured.
These benefits also extend to pet ownership. Studies published in an American Heart Association scientific journal have shown that dog ownership can help those who have experienced heart attacks and strokes to live longer. This is linked to better fitness levels (dog owners tend to get out and about more) and lower cortisol (stress hormone) levels.
Are Therapy Animals the Same as Service Animals?
No. Therapy animals are different to service animals in that their role is to provide comfort and support to those in need. Service animals, on the other hand, have received special training to ensure they can perform certain tasks to help those with disabilities.
For example, a service dog may be trained to alert an owner with epilepsy to an oncoming seizure, or a person with diabetes to blood sugar levels that are dropping or spiking. Some service dogs are trained to perform tasks like fetching medicine or supporting their owner with balance issues. These are just a few examples of what service dogs can be trained to do.
Can I Volunteer with My Pet?
If you’d like to volunteer your pet as a therapy animal, the first step to take is to check out a therapy animal program’s (like Pet Partners in the US) website to make sure you and your pet meet all the criteria. The requirements might differ depending on where you are, but they’re likely to be quite similar everywhere.
Generally, requirements include the animal being in good physical shape, fully house-trained, responsive to the owner’s instructions, sociable and gentle around everyone, and having no history of aggression. The animal must also be of a certain age, and this may vary depending on the species.
Owners must have an excellent rapport with the animal while also being willing to gently and professionally guide interactions between the animal and the people they visit. It’s also common for organizations to conduct criminal background checks. These are just a few examples, however—there could be many more.
If you’ve checked out the organization’s requirements in full and think your pet may be a good match, fill out the volunteer application form or contact the organization to find out what the next steps are.
How to Celebrate National Therapy Animal Day
If you’d like to get into the spirit of National Therapy Animal Day next time it rolls around, there are plenty of ways to celebrate.
National Therapy Animal Day is all about acknowledging the comfort and joy volunteers and their pets bring to people’s lives and how essential they are to the community. If you’ve been considering volunteering yourself and are ready to take the leap, don’t hesitate to reach out to a therapy animal organization to get started.
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