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Paws for thought!

The involvement of animals in the treatment and well being of patients has been documented now for many years. As a result numerous organisations offering “pet therapy” in different forms have been set up around the world. This paper concentrates on one such organisation based in Scotland. It aims to highlight the work of Canine Concern Scotland Trust (CCST) and its Therapet Visiting Service outlining their roles as visitors to patients and the therapeutic role they play within rehabilitation and dog phobia.

BackgroundConner and Miller (2000) state that for many years, the therapeutic value and importance that animals have in the spiritual and secular lives of people have been observed. Lutwack-Bloom et al (2005) document an extensive history of pet therapy dating back to 1792. In addition, Stanley-Hermanns and Miller (2002) and Ormerod (2005) state that in the mid 1800s, Florence Nightingale understood the therapeutic value of pets and encouraged her patients to care for animals.

A number of studies have been carried out which prove that pet therapy is beneficial. Kaminski et al (2002) list numerous studies which found that pet therapy promoted“social interactions and behaviour, increased emotional comfort, decreased loneliness and anxiety, and provided a source of self-esteem and sense of independence”. (Page 322)

They also list studies which show a reduction in physiological indicators such as blood pressure and heart rate in the presence of an animal. Other studies including Siegel (1990) and Voelker (1995) support the positive effect of animals on reducing stress. Also, Lutwack-Bloom et al (2005) concluded that visits from volunteers with a dog improved the mood of those receiving the visits and Hall and Malpus (2000) concluded that the presence of a pet promoted social interaction within long-stay psychiatric patients.


The Therapet Service

Given the abundance of evidence to support pet therapy, the Therapet Service was established in 1988 by Canine Concern Scotland Trust (CCST) which is a Scottish Charity. The Therapet Service is entirely voluntary and involves registered dogs, and their owners, visiting hospitals, hospices, residential care and nursing homes, special needs schools and other institutions on a regular basis to provide pet therapy and bring friendship and companionship to everyone they encounter. The volunteers must complete the Disclosure Scotland process and the dogs are assessed for good temperament and general suitability. All volunteers with registered Therapets are asked to follow the Therapet Health Protocol which sets out the health standards required of the Therapet. At present there are approximately 500 registered Therapets throughout Scotland.

Through no fault of their own, many people in the aforementioned premises find themselves deprived of the companionship of a much loved dog. The Therapet Service allows these people to benefit from a regular visit from a dog without all the responsibilities of ownership, but in addition allows them to experience all the benefits of having a loving pet.

Therapets are also used within rehabilitation goal planning with patients. Therapists and patients can set realistic goals involving the Therapet for each visit. For example starting off with reaching forward in a chair and maintaining sitting balance in order to stroke the dog with an end goal, if appropriate, being to take the dog for a short walk. Similarly, in recent years Therapets have successfully assisted psychiatric professionals in helping individuals overcome their fear of dogs. Following set goals, the Therapet and volunteer work in conjunction with the Professional to assist the individual to achieve their goal in managing or overcoming their fear.


The Way Forward

As an Occupational Therapist and an Area Representative/Volunteer for CCST, the author feels that health care professionals are in a prime situation to facilitate animals into patient care. This is echoed by Cangelosi and Embrey (2006) who go on to acknowledge that pet therapy is not for everyone, for example patients who are allergic or react negatively to animals, but that it does offer a holistic care approach for patients which can be extended to their families and the staff who care for them.

The whole concept of pet therapy can be summed up by two quotes. The first is by Roger Caros (2006), cited in Cangelosi and Embrey (2006) who wrote that, “Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.” (Page 17). The second is the motto of CCST which is, “WE care for Dogs and DOGS care for us!!” 

Lynsey Thomson BSc(Hons) OT
Area Representative
Canine Concern Scotland Trust incorporating Therapet

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