Animals Can Cure Those Who Like Them

MUMBAI/PUNE: Despite having been through several therapy sessions, seven-year-old Pramodini, an autistic child, had never spoken a word until she met Bruno, a Golden Retriever, who handed her a paw in greeting during their first meeting.

Ten ball-throwing sessions with Bruno later, therapists had managed to teach Pramodini her first word — ball.

Fourteen-year-old Aruna was a poor student with low self-esteem. Her most positive emotion was her passion for animals, noted Nair Hospital psychiatrist Henal Shah. She wrote out a different prescription for Aruna — a few hours of voluntary work once a week at a dog-training school in the American city the girl came from. The sessions will boost her self-esteem, the doctor said.

Children in Pune, where a hotel threw out Pandit Ravi Shankar on Thursday as he was accompanied by service dog Sukhi, have also been blessed with canine company. A recent instance is that of NGO Manavya, which arranged a meet between specially trained dog Tyson and children carrying HIV or who had contracted AIDS. The otherwise reluctant children shed their inhibitions and had a fun-filled day.

Animals do have the healing touch for those who like them, say health experts. Be it patients suffering from cancer or children with few emotional skills, pets can help them get along in life. Patients for our animal-assisted therapy sessions range from 18-month-olds to 95-year-olds, says Rohini Fernandes, a clinical psychologist who is among India’s few trainers in pet-assisted therapy. Therapists Fernandes and Radhika Nair, who form the Animal Angels Foundation, are assisted by a band of 20 dogs living across Mumbai.

Animal therapy works on a simple principle: take a pets help to help yourself. A stroll with a dog in tow can, at times, help patients with depression connect back with the big bad world. For the elderly with failing memory and rapidly deteriorating cognitive skills, pets can keep the tenuous connections alive. Trained therapy dogs called therapets can teach schizophrenia-affected patients who usually have poor hygiene how to keep clean.

Says social psychiatrist Harish Shetty: Not only do pets accept you as you are, they have no expectations. He points out that pets are not the therapy per se but a complementary medicine. So, if patients suffering from depression have a liking for dogs or cats, doctors may recommend they adopt pets as that may calm them, Shetty adds.

At Parel’s Kshitij rehabilitation centre, which runs a daycare centre for schizophrenia patients, Golden Retriever Angel is a big hit. Patients with this disorder cant express their emotions or relate to their families but they connect with dogs.

We teach them basic self-care or hygiene by brushing Angel’s teeth,or brushing her fur, explains Rohini Fernandes. Once the clean-up is done, the lesson begins: You like Angel looking neat and tidy, don’t you? So why don’t you comb your own hair?

And the sessions work, say experts. Pune-based clinical psychologist Minal Lonkar Kavishwar, who has been into pet therapy for over four years, explains: Animals never judge us according to our deeds or financial status.
Their unconditional acceptance fulfils our primitive requirement for love and acceptance and that is what has a positive psychological impact on affected people.

Sources: The Times Of India

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