We often find comfort in the love and care of a furry friend. And, for children with a serious illness or special needs, caring for or just enjoying the company of a pet can be healing.
When our dog Milo (the cutest little black Chihuahua you ever wanted to see!) came to live with us he was 7 weeks old and just as sweet and needy as a newborn baby. Since that time, each family member has given time to care for him. And, yes that meant getting up for those middle of the night feedings and potty runs. But, no one could have prepared us for the bond that has developed between Milo and my son Jonathan. Milo has become very therapeutic for Jonathan – offering companionship, loyalty and creating an enormous sense of responsibility. I have watched him morph into an individual so focused on the care of his dog that he doesn’t dwell on the discomfort he is feeling. This is not to say that he no longer experiences pain, he just has a different outlook. If it’s his turn to take care of Milo, he will do it no matter what!
Pet therapy officially began just after WWI to encourage the healing process of injured soldiers. From that time, the use of pet therapy or animal assisted therapy has evolved to include adults with brain injuries; children with chronic pain conditions; and even children with autism, to name a few. Positive behavioral changes as well as motivation to achieve specific physical goals have, in some cases, been attributed to PT/AAT.
Research shows that pet companionship not only has great emotional and psychological affects on children, but also holds significant physiological benefits; such as: reducing one’s blood pressure and heart rate; and reducing tension and anxiety. In an article posted by Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, Children’s Hospital, one parent raves, pet therapy is the only thing that took her child’s mind off her pain and her problems. Further stating, and I echo, “It’s amazing to see an animal have such an impact on a child’s well being and ability to cope.” In the uncertain world called chronic illness, the only sure thing is that there will be suffering. Pets can offer a ray of hope in that world and for us Milo has bought joy, continuity and empowerment.
Take These Words to Heart