Tonawanda News


October 6, 2013

CRITTER COMPANIONS: Pets beneficial for seniors, too

Tonawanda News — The benefits of sharing a life with a critter companion are far reaching. For those healthy enough to care for a pet, the paybacks range from physical to emotional health. Those in senior continuing care, hospitals or assisted living facilities can still reap the benefits of the human-animal bond without caring for a pet.

The notion of animal-assisted therapy may have been around since humans first started caring for animals. Early hunter and gatherers believed that animals had supernatural strength and their spirits had healing powers. 

In the 18th century one of the first animal-assisted therapy sessions was led by William Tuke at the York Retreat in England for the mentally ill. The therapy animals were various species of domesticated animals that roamed the grounds of the retreat with the patients. The retreat thought the animals allowed the patients to communicate more effectively.

Today a range of animals are visiting various facilities and offering comfort, learning and entertainment. It is even happening in Western New York.

A few years ago Dr. Sandy Marky, a local veterinarian, had a vision of an organization that would help educate people about the value of therapy animals. With the help of her initiative within the Niagara Frontier Veterinary Society the Therapy Animals of Western New York began.

Pam Rose, one of the founding members, who successfully juggles the tasks of designing, maintaining and responding to emails on the TAWNY website also has a therapy dog herself.

“We have quite a few stories about therapy dogs visiting senior continuing care or assisted-living facilities, who have residents who just will not interact much — they stay in their rooms most of the time,” she said. “Once a therapy dog visits, again and again we see those individuals blossom, come out to interact with the dogs, and almost magically become more social and less isolated.”

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