Duncan McRae House

129 South US 221 Mt Vernon, GA 30445
(912)-583-2020   -   info@DuncanMcRaeHouse.com

Duncan McRae House


You probably know about guide dogs – also called seeing-eye dogs, but do you know about animal-assisted therapy, or pet therapy? While guide dogs are trained to lead blind or visually impaired people around obstacles throughout their daily activities, several other animals may be involved in pet therapy with various goals.

A relatively new field of study, animal-assisted therapy (AAT) is a type of therapy that involves animals as a form of treatment. The goal of AAT is to improve a patient’s social, emotional, or cognitive functioning. They can also be useful for educational and motivational effectiveness for participants. Animals are great tools for therapy because they can make people feel safe and loved when they have been deprived of social interaction or hurt by other people. They do not communicate with words, and so patients afraid of approaching people can comfortably approach an animal. Additionally, a therapist who brings along a pet is viewed as being less dangerous to the patient, and so the previously uncommunicative patient is willing to share more with the professional. Animals commonly used for therapy include dogs, cats, horses, birds, rabbits, and other small animals. The type of animal is not really important. What matters is that the animal fits the temperament, interest and individual needs of the patient.

Animals bring out our nurturing instinct. They also make us feel safe and unconditionally accepted. We can just be ourselves around our pets. Pets such as dogs and cats provide unconditional, nonjudgmental love and affection. And pets can shift our narrow focus beyond ourselves, helping us to feel connected to a larger world.2

Studies have shown that physical contact with a pet can lower high blood pressure, and improve survival rates for heart attack victims. There is also evidence that petting an animal can cause endorphins to be released. Endorphins are chemicals in the body that suppress the pain response. These are benefits that can be enjoyed from pet ownership, as well as from visiting therapeutic animals. Many skills can be learned or improved with the assistance of a therapy animal. Patient rehabilitation can be encouraged by such activities as walking or running with a dog, or throwing objects for the animal to retrieve. Fine motor skills may be developed by petting, grooming, or feeding the animal. Patient communication is encouraged by the response of the animal to either verbal or physical commands. Activities such as writing or talking about the therapy animals or past pets also develop cognitive skills and communication. Creative inclusion of an animal in the life or therapy of a patient can make a major difference in the patient’s comfort, progress, and recovery.


The enjoyment of animals as companions dates back many centuries, perhaps even to prehistoric times. The first known therapeutic use of animals started in Gheel, Belgium in the ninth century. In this town, learning to care for farm animals has long been an important part of an assisted living program designed for people with disabilities.

Some of the earliest uses of animal-assisted healing in the United States were for psychiatric patients. The presence of the therapy animals produced a beneficial effect on both children and adults with mental health issues. During World War II, the Red Cross encouraged patients to do farm work to help keep their minds off the war. In the United States, animals have been allowed to visit people in a mental health program in Washington D.C. since 1919, but it is only in the last few decades that AAT has been more formally applied in a variety of therapeutic settings, including schools and prisons, as well as hospitals, hospices, assisted living facilities, and outpatient care programs.


The benefits of pet therapy can affect a wide variety of patients, including the elderly and those with heart disease, cancer, AIDS, or a mental illness. People benefit from pets in various ways, including:

· reducing loneliness, anxiety, and depression

· increasing self-esteem

· aiding in short and long term memory

· encouraging responsibility and nurturance

· improving motor skills, balance, and speech

· distracting pain

· decreasing the risk of health problems

Pet therapy research and studies are showing the benefits of pet therapy:

· In one study performed at City Hospital in New York, people who suffered from heart attacks and owned pets were shown to be more likely to be alive one year later than those who did not have a pet.

· Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania reported that stroking a cat or dog can lower blood pressure in those with hypertension.

· In one multi-state study conducted in nursing home facilities, it was found that medication costs dropped about $3.80 per patient (per day) where animals were allowed.

· It has also been shown that people who watch fish swimming in an aquarium before a medical procedure had less anxiety.

Animals have shown promise for aiding with many social and physical conditions:

· Pets help Alzheimer’s patients by bringing them back to the present. Specially trained pups can also help alert others that an Alzheimer’s patient has wandered into harm’s way. “Pets can provide a measure of safety to people with the disease,” says Thomas Kirk, a vice president of a chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association.

· Children who suffer from attention deficit disorder (ADD) are able to focus on a pet, which helps them learn to concentrate.

· Mentally ill patients, or those with emotional problems, share a common bond when a cat or dog enters the room. Instead of reacting negatively to one another, it boosts morale and fosters a positive environment.

· Pets are an antidote to depression. Life in a care facility can be boring. A visit from a therapy cat or dog breaks the daily routine and stimulates interest in the world outside.

· Pets provide social interaction. In a health care facility, people come out of their rooms to socialize with the animals and with each other.

· Everyone has the need to touch. Many humans are uncomfortable hugging or touching strangers, even those close to them. Some people are alone and have no hands to hold, no bodies to hug. But rubbing the fur of a cat or dog can provide a stimulation that is sorely lacking. The nonverbal connection is invaluable in the healing process.

· Pets are a source of expectation, hope and communication. Looking forward to a social call or getting home after time away gives that spark of anticipation all humans need to help feel alive. Pets can help start a conversation, and help one who is struggling against unusual difficulties in learning to speak for the first time or after suffering from speech impairment as caused by a stroke.

Come visit The Duncan McRae House Assisted Living Facility in Mt. Vernon, Ga sometime! It’s beautiful here!

This entry was posted on Thursday, December 22nd, 2011 at 7:00 pm and is filed under assisted living, pets, tips. You can leave a comment and follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

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