Opinion | Therapy animals benefit mental health

Staff+Sgt.+Anthony+Houston+and+Staff+Sgt.+Travis+Gilbert%2C+watch+therapy+dog%2C+Lugnut%2C+do+a+trick+on+Aug.+4%2C+2011.+Columnist+Maggie+Knutte+argues+that+therapy+animals+prove+to+be+valuable+when+it+comes+to+supporting+an+individuals+mental+health.+

Photo courtesy of Jill Swank/Wikimedia Commons

Staff Sgt. Anthony Houston and Staff Sgt. Travis Gilbert, watch therapy dog, Lugnut, do a trick on Aug. 4, 2011. Columnist Maggie Knutte argues that therapy animals prove to be valuable when it comes to supporting an individual’s mental health.

By Maggie Knutte, Columnist

Our furry friends can be a handful to take care of, from leaving big messes for you to clean to eating up your money — sometimes literally. Pets require a lot of attention, but so do humans. Prioritizing your health, both mental and physical, is important. Luckily for us, our little companions can help improve our well-being. 

A study done in 2019 in the National Library of Medicine concluded that having animals around patients in long-term care significantly improved the mood of the patients. The study noted that having animals around may distract the patients and help their worries fade away. 

Support animals have grown in popularity in recent years. They can be found in many places, not just hospitals or care facilities. Many people even own and care for support pets in their own homes. 

The American Veterinary Medical Association outlines the differences between service, emotional support and therapy animals. 

Service animals are often dogs, but can sometimes even be miniature horses. You have probably seen them with their owner, as they are often used to assist someone with a physical or psychological disability. They are trained individually for the purpose of helping their specific owner. 

Emotional support animals are much like their name sounds. They offer companionship to their owners who may crave it. It can be any type of animal, and while it doesn’t need training or licensing, a physician or mental health professional will often give written recommendations if needed.

Lastly, therapy animals are any trained animal that assists in activities or therapy. They are usually certified by an organization after passing training and examination to ensure they’re well behaved around people.

At the University, we have our very own Illini Service Dogs. Additionally, the University of Illinois Police Department has its own certified K9s. You can submit a request if you would like to visit with a therapy dog. Two dogs recently paid a visit to Busey-Evans Hall to help students relieve some stress and anxiety with finals week approaching. 

Different benefits of animal therapy for mental health, outlined by UCLA Health, include aiding in relaxation, easing stress and anxiety, providing a mental escape, offering comfort and combating loneliness. There can also be physical health advantages, like lowered blood pressure, slowing of breathing during anxiety attacks, releasing “happy” hormones and lessening or distracting from physical pain.   

Being in a good mindset is important for productivity. An article on the Heart Attack and Stroke Victims Organization website cites that pets help to reduce work stress and therefore increase productivity. 

Before considering animal therapy, you might want to ask yourself if you are comfortable taking on the responsibility of a pet. If not, there are always options for visitation with animals. The website Borrow My Doggy allows you to spend time with other people’s dogs without fully committing to having your own. 

If you are struggling with your mental health, consider letting an amiable animal — a dog, for instance — help you feel better. There’s a reason they’re called man’s best friend.

 

Maggie is a freshman in LAS.

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