There is a method for people with autism, those recovering in hospitals, those in nursing homes and in disasters areas among other things.

A method that helps them cope: dogs. Therapy dogs have become more and more prominent in the last few years, although the method isn’t a new one. In fact it was back during World War II that the first therapy dog came about.

Her name was Smoky and she was a Yorkshire Terrier found abandoned on the battlefield by Corporal William Wynne.

Starting as just a pet, after Wynne was put into the hospital with Jungle Disease his friends would bring Smoky as he recovered and Smoky would cheer him up as well as other patients in the hospital. Therapy dogs weren’t used systematically until years later in 1976 when a registered nurse, Elaine Smith, started to notice that patients in the hospital were responding well to visits by the chaplain and his golden retriever. She then started a program that would send therapy dogs to different institutions. Since then therapy dogs have made way for therapy animals; cats, guinea pigs, rabbits, rats, horses, etc. can all be used as therapy animals. While most types of animals can be a therapy animal not every individual animal can be.

They have to have specific temperaments. They are friendly, patient, confident, gentle, and at ease with strangers. They provide unconditional acceptance and put smiles on the faces of children and adults alike. They also must be okay with human contact and excessive petting, comfortable with staying in one place and know basic obedience commands. Therapy Animals will have to deal with handling by children, equipment such as wheelchairs, walkers and canes, sudden and loud noises and the possible presence of another animal at the facility.

Therapy Animals can be used for a multitude of different things the most common being visits to hospitals and nursing homes. More recently Therapy Animals have been used to help in many different ways, including helping people with learning difficulties such as programs that allow children to read to the therapy animals, helping people with mental and physical therapy, and bringing comfort to people in stressful situations such as those recovering from disaster. There are both mental and physical benefits to Therapy Animals.

The mental benefits include: A decrease in stress, anxiety and depression Increase in feelings of acceptance and abilities to accept social and emotional support Increase in socialization for those suffering with autism Increase in mental stimulation, attention skills and verbal interactions Increase in spirit and self-esteem. The Physical benefits include: Decrease in blood pressure Decrease in heart rate Decrease in the stress hormone cortisol Increase in hormones associated with health and a feeling of well-being Increase in level of fitness by providing stimulus for exercise, with improvement in activities in which they were limited Improvement in fine motor skills, standing balance, wheelchair and other physical skills Therapy Animals help in so many different ways and the benefits of having them or working with them are becoming more and more obvious.

Do you have a therapy animal? We would love to hear about how that animal has helped you or others in the comments below!