The use of animals in medical settings dates back over 150 years, but in the 1970s it began to be scientifically researched. Since the earliest studies, a variety of health benefits have been found in people who participate in animal therapy. Makenzie Jones (pictured) looks at some local therapy centers.
As for physical benefits associated with animal therapy, generally, pain levels are lowered. The simple act of petting produces an automatic response in the body releasing calming endorphins. Blood pressure is also lowered and cardiovascular health improved. This can be furthered by engaging with the animal in ways such as dog walking, which can improve overall health and recovery, and give motivation to move and improve. In heart attack patients, higher recovery and survival rates have been found when animals are involved in their therapy.
Mental and emotional benefits include lifted spirits and comfort, as well as motivation for daily life. Animals encourage socialization and communication, which is especially helpful for overcoming speech and emotional disorders. These interactions lessen boredom, loneliness, depression, isolation, and anxiety. Participating in activities creates a relationship between the human and animal as well as with other people. It gives a sense of calm and security and diverts attention from the person’s stressors, while also giving a greater sense of self-worth. This is why animals are often brought into high-stress environments such as schools, hospitals, and areas that have been affected by natural disasters.
Animal-Assisted Therapy, AAT, incorporates animals into patients’ treatment plans. There are various animals used in such programs and at varying degrees. A therapy animal is one typically found serving the public in places like schools, hospitals, and assisted living homes. Assistance or service animals are typically dogs and miniature horses trained to work with individuals with a disability. These are the kind seen with vests and are not to be treated as pets when on the job. Emotional support animals are prescribed to people with mental illnesses by their mental health professional. Facility animals can be found in residential or clinical settings and have a wide variety of animal participants from stereotypical dogs to fish, birds, cats, and more.
All ages can be helped by animal therapy.
In children with autism, studies have shown increased emotional stability. Schizophrenic, depressed, and addicted patients also show great mental and physical benefits from animal interaction. Animals are often used with veterans as well as homesick students, giving them a sense of calm and easing adjustment to a new stage of life. In young children with emotional and behavioral problems, animals put them at ease, allowing the clinician to be more affective in assessing the child’s state of mind. Horses are a popular method of therapy for people with disabilities as it provides a great way to improve strength and coordination along with emotional state. Not only do the people benefit, but the animals as well.
In the Middle Tennessee area several methods of animal therapy are offered in various locations. In Taft, TN, Magnolia Ranch offers equine therapy for a wide variety of issues. Integrative Life Center offers many of the same options, located on 16th Avenue South.
For youth-focused equine therapy in the area, Take the Reins Riding Center serves those with documented disabilities from their 12-acre farm in Franklin. This family-owned and oriented treatment is also non-profit, allowing participation at minimal cost. They make people the priority with a goal “to bring joy and sense of accomplishment to people with special life challenges through therapeutic equine riding with the guidance of Christ.”
Another facility providing equine therapy for young people is Saddle Up Nashville, also located in Franklin. Voyage JourneyPure is a substance addiction treatment facility for all ages in Murfreesboro that offers residential and individual programs that include equine therapy and unique options for women.
Beyond horses, Therapy Arc provides services to areas across Middle Tennessee including hospitals, medical clinics, rehabilitation facilities, Hospice, senior care centers, schools, jails, and more.
Dee Mathues Therapy ARC Co-Founder, says, “For people who are interested, they can “get involved through our website to see more about the program” and “It is not just dogs; we also welcome other species… cats, horses, bunnies, and we’ve even had a bird.”
For people who would like their dog to be involved, they hold a “hands-on training program, all day for humans, then week nights for animals and their handlers.”
“We recommend that the dogs go through a canine good citizenship class to get the CGC certification,” then when they go to ARC, “they go through a basic screening to make sure they meet certain criteria.” This includes age of 18 months to 10 years, calm demeanor, and knowledge of basic commands.
A full list of locations can be found on their website https://therapyarc.org. To search for more canine therapy opportunities, organizations, and therapy groups, a large list can be found on the American Kennel Club website. Two of the most popular certified organizations are Therapy Dogs International and Pet Partners. At Nashville’s Vanderbilt University Medical Center, 30 animal-assisted therapy teams can be found across the hospital branches for patients of all ages and reasons for hospitalization. Special guests sometimes visit, as well. For example, Nashville native and national star Doug the Pug recently visited Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital to be with patients and their families.
Voyage JourneyPure: 844-445-7475
Saddle Up Nashville: Peggy Plunkett, 615-794-1150
Take the Reins Riding Center: email@example.com 615-566-7534
Therapy Arc: firstname.lastname@example.org 615-519-0719
Integrative Life Center: Stephanie Fultz 615-398-4973
Magnolia Ranch: Jessica Atchley 256-578-3751