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Animals Helping People

How do animals help people?

Animals can be trained as service animals or therapy or companion animals to help people who have various types of disabilities or medical conditions. 

What is a service animal?

A service animal is an animal that is highly trained to do work or perform tasks that assist people who have disabilities or medical conditions.  A service animal is almost always a dog, but in some cases can be a miniature horse. By law, service animals are allowed in any public place, including restaurants, stores, and movie theaters.  For this reason, service animals must go through very intense training and only very few are able to pass the testing required to become certified as a service animal. Service animals are trained to do specific tasks that the owner’s disability or medical condition requires.  They can be trained to pick up or retrieve things for people with physical disabilities. They can be trained to pull people in wheel chairs, guide people who have visual impairments, and alert people who have hearing impairments. They can even be trained to alert medical personnel if their owner is having a seizure or other medical emergency. 

What are animal assisted activities?

Animals involved in animal assisted activities (AAA) provide people with comfort or emotional support in some way.  These animals go through obedience training, but their testing is not as tough as for service animals. Any type of animal can be an AAA animal, but most often, it is cats or dogs.  AAA animals help a wide range of people by providing them with the opportunity to bond with the animal and to give and receive affection from the animal. The elderly in nursing homes, veterans dealing with PTSD, and children in hospitals are just a few examples of people who can benefit from AAA.     

What is a therapy animal? 

Therapy animals are used by physical therapists and other types of therapists to help patients make progress in recovering from a physical injury or medical condition.  A therapy animal can be any type of animal; dogs, cats, and horses are fairly common. A therapist will often use care of the animal, such as walking a dog or reaching up to brush a horse’s mane as a way to build up the patient’s muscles or coordination.  Therapy animals are also helpful to patients who have emotional or cognitive disabilities, as working with the animal can help to increase the patient’s communication skills and self-esteem.

Learn More

(PDF) Books on this topic

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