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There’s no doubt about it, pets are good therapy.

We’ve seen reports on television and in the news about the benefits of having pets around. It’s why some retirement centers and nursing homes have resident cats or dogs that spend time with the residents. Some people also have “therapy dogs” that they take most places with them to alleviate anxiety.  A therapy dog is a dog trained to provide comfort and affection to people in retirement homes, nursing homes, hospitals, mental institutions, schools, and stressful situations such as after a disaster or traumatic event.

The concept of a therapy dog is often attributed to Elaine Smith, an American who worked as a registered nurse for a time in England. Smith noticed how well patients responded to visits by a certain chaplain and his canine companion, a golden retriever. Upon returning to the United States in 1976, Smith started a program for training dogs to visit institutions.

Over the years healthcare professionals have noticed the therapeutic effect of animal companionship, such as relieving stress, lowering blood pressure, and raising spirits,and the demand for therapy dogs continues to grow. In recent years, therapy dogs have been enlisted to help children overcome speech and emotional disorders.

The concept has widened to include other species, specifically therapy cats, therapy rabbits, and therapy birds. Whether we have them as official therapy animals, or just as beloved family pets, it’s clear that pets make us feel better and stay healthier.

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