I never realized until recently just how many kinds of animals work as therapy animals - dogs, horses...even elephants!
Therapy Animals at PGH
I was in stroke rehabilitation at Penetanguishene General Hospital for their annual summer barbecue, hosted by a benefactor at his large home. PGH is a very small facility, so it wasn't a big deal to get everyone who wanted to go out to the large property for a day of fun and food and - pony rides.
The staff said that they'd get me up on the pony for a safe, guided ride if I wanted one. They really encouraged me to try riding the pony, in fact. I wasn't having any of it. I couldn't see how they'd get me onto the pony, and I had it in my head that I'd be too heavy for it anyway.
But perhaps I should have. Horses are very effective therapy animals. I've known for a long time now that some people with developmental disabilities such as autism and Down's Syndrome experience significant functional gains from being in contact with horses - the process is called equine therapy. Equine therapy is also used by psychotherapists, to help people get over eating disorders, anxiety disorders, and grief issues, and to manage conditions like ADD/ADHD. http://www.bearspotfarm.com/poniesatwork.pdf Doing some investigating this week, I also learned that a part of equine therapy, referred to as therapeutic riding (or hippotherapy) actually helps people with physical disabilities due to brain injury, cerebral palsy, and stroke to recover balance and function.
And ponies *are* horses. I googled that. And then I googled "equine therapy ponies" and found a place that's a team of ponies which which they do equine therapy and hippotherapy http://www.equinetherapyassociates.com/index.html
Horses are amazing. Maybe I should have tried to go for a pony ride that day.
Therapy Animals at ORC
But I didn't. Ottawa Rehabilitation Centre had a therapy animal program - they had a therapy dog that came in weekly, and I never missed his visit. He was an older dog, a little slow-moving. I can't remember what his name was, or what breed he was. But he and his owner spent Thursday afternoons in the Rec room, where Arts and Crafts was held on Thursday nights, and we'd all file in and out as our schedules allowed. That dog would sit there and happily let you maul him as long as you wanted, and I saw him get smiles out of people that never smiled otherwise.
*My* Therapy Animals
There was a family in the area that had therapy dogs when I moved home, but I never met them - they worked pretty much in the hospital. So I found my own therapy animals.
I loved being at home with our family dog, Sandy, but she was quite elderly. She died while I was living with Dad. I wasn't able to get a dog when I moved out on my own. My apartment building allows pets, but the winter conditions in the area made me very unsteady on my feet for the first couple of years. I couldn't guarantee that I could walk a dog as much or for as long as it needed. So when I finally decided to get a pet, I got a kitten. Poor Paddington was ill and had to be put down not long after his first birthday. But Faira came to live me soon after, and then Mindee.
|Faira (tabby) and Mindee (orange and white)|
I hadn't had cats when I was growing up, and I can see now why they don't make good therapy animals. Like most cats, Faira and Mindee only want affection on their own terms, and sometimes I think they see me as only food provider and main obstacle to completely taking over the bed. But, as I write this, Faira is purring on my lap, half-draped over my arm, and the two of them are (I'm sure) exhausted by the close tabs they kept on me while I had food poisoning last week (read: they both slept on the bed with me/on me/somehow touching at all times...they do this when I'm sick).
I consider them therapy animals, even if they're not officially ones. And, now that I know what trying to lift a sleeping cat *actually* feels like, I have a much greater appreciation for what my nurses told me trying to lift a limb affected by stroke is like.
Everything has a lesson to teach us, apparently.