Pet Therapy is the best therapy, it involves wagging tails, puppy eyes, 4 paws and a big wet nose. It has grown in popularity as people acknowledge and realise the healing powers of animals. For those of us born with this innate knowledge, wonder what the fuss is about. The therapeutic value of an animal for a person who suffers from severe mental or physical disabilities has proven its useful many times over.
Emotional support animals are the new kids on the block. While it is unfair to knock the value of these animals for individuals who genuinely need them, mention the term and you are most likely to be met with eye rolls.
The eye rolls are not unwarranted, some of us will remember the lady who attempted to board an aircraft with an emotional support peacock! These outlandish acts tend to ruin, the “genuineness” of a therapy. Social media is another killer of seriousness, #puppytherapy ,may trend on Instagram, and return an insane number of “post likes” but stop and think about the misuse of the term.
Therapy dogs are trained, they are selected as pups, through a rigorous screening process, and hours of patient training by professionals. So taking a puppy/ dog up to a person and letting them stroke it is not therapy- its play. Service animals/ therapy animals are animals that look cute and make us smile, but they are hard working professionals. It’s akin to picking up an iPhone taking a photo and deeming yourself a photographer. Because you have the tool does not make you a craftsman. It just makes you another individual with access to the tool.
A helping paw is as comforting as a helping hand
Now, a puppy, kitten or any such fur ball showing up to your place of work, especially on a Monday, would qualify as “therapy” for most of us. Unless, you are one of those “allergy” affected individuals. What is really happening? The fur ball is a welcome distraction from the daily routine. Not Therapy. Cats and dogs put smiles on a face, you escape into silliness and are inexplicably thrilled by a dog retrieving a ball and dropping it at your feet. Miniature horses, cats, dogs, and pigs, are personable and the appearance of one, in facilities like children’s hospitals and nursing homes, do have therapeutic benefits. Before you are impressed with the ‘therapy dog’ who just visited you, educate yourself on dog body language. It is infuriating to scroll through social media and watch nervous animals surrounded by offices or classrooms of school children. Ears pinned back, eyes wide open, are all signs of discomfort from a dog. This is where breed, temperament and socialisation of an animal are of vital importance.
Fantastic stories of abandoned and rescued animals, magically restoring people’s mental health by turning into therapy animals are fairy tales. It is not impossible, but improbable. Rescued animals, referring particularly to dogs here, experience traumas, interactions and experiences that can never be known to a rescuer, or potential adopter. Taking such an animal into a workplace, school or similar location could trigger an adverse response, which leaves the animal and people in an unsafe situation.
As a school or corporate office, it would be remiss of you not to ask questions about the animals visiting your facility. Where and in what conditions are these animals housed? Is there any potential of them carrying an transferable infection to people? It’s never been as simple as a puppies running wild and bringing smiles to peoples faces, a lot of hard work and tears go into those innocent puppy eyes wagging their tails. They’ve been painstakingly reared to wag their tails through screaming kids running around them, tugging at tails and ears!
If you have a dog, or pup you think is a potential candidate to be a therapy dog, please consult a trained professional. We have some fantastic pioneers in the field in India, who can help you with organisations and requirements of a therapy dog.