Pet therapy, also known as animal mediated therapy, is a form of treatment that employs animals to aid those suffering from emotional or psychological distress.
When people are in trouble, animals may be able to aid by offering comfort, warning others of danger, or taking active measures to improve the situation. It’s a modality of alternative medicine and it is intended to complement existing therapies rather than serve as a replacement for them.
Cats and dogs are emotional beings just like humans
Phiwokazi Bam from Theunissen in the Free State loves cats and dogs. Her pets have brought her comfort since the death of her mother at the age of 13. Bam tells Health for Mzansi that her mother’s passing made her isolate herself from people, even from her father who would try to make her feel better.
“There were days when I would feel like not talking to anyone,” she says.
‘Billy is more than a pet’
Charlie Dyasi, an artist, and sound engineer from Sterkspruit in the Free State, was born with glaucoma. The pressure on his optic nerves has left him blind.
“In my case, it’s a hereditary disease. It stems from my father side, mostly because he is also blind.”
Billy, his service Labrador, not only helps him with his day-to-day chores but also provides loads of emotional support.
“Billy helps me overcome obstacles. It’s as if they were never there. He helps me reach places and I can navigate my way without being afraid of knocking into any obstacles. Even though he does get distracted, I correct him, but for me, Billy is a pleasure to be with.”
According to Dyasi, anyone in need of a service dog can obtain one, as they are useful around the house and good with children and teenagers.
At a young age, he was trained to be independent and acquired adequate foundation training.
“Personally, I can do everything, from cleaning to cooking, and fixing my own computers, as well as taking care of the service dog that I live with right now. I really don’t need a second person to stay with me unless they feel the need to, but personally, I am independent enough to do everything on my own.”
Pets are family
Khanyisile Tshabalala of KwaZulu-Natal recalls having dogs at home for as long as she can remember. Because of her father’s arthritis, he couldn’t perform certain tasks on his own, but the problem at hand was his safety.
“We live in difficult times, and security is a major concern. Now, I’m not saying that dog ownership guarantees safety, but it does help to raise awareness of potential threats.”
Topsy is the family dog that Tshabalala remembers from her childhood. They have so much fun with the dog, she says, and miss it terribly when she’s not around.
“When I helped her have puppies, that’s when I’d say she trusted me for good. She wouldn’t let anyone else near her puppies besides me. This was the first time I’d ever seen a dog give birth and I was able to help.”
A dog is the best buddy you can have, whether you need a boost in energy, confidence, or something else entirely, adds Tshabalala.
Dogs are like oxytocin
According to Sandile Radebe, an educational psychologist and student counsellor at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, people often chose pets based on how much they resemble the humans who got them.
“If I feel horrible about myself or the way I look, they could assume that I’d choose a gorgeous puppy as a consolation. When a pet and its owner form a strong bond, the pet essentially becomes the owner’s child, requiring the same level of care as a human infant.”
He adds that pets are known to raise oxytocin levels or the happy hormone in humans. This results in a drop in cortisol levels. Pets are great companions because they provide their owners with a constant source of entertainment and a reason to interact with others, even on days when they would not otherwise feel like it.
“In the same way that humans take pleasure in each other’s company, dogs enjoy their owners’ company because of their socialising tendencies. When they are with their owners, they get overjoyed and thrilled. They crave attention and affection.”
It’s because of these things that they care so deeply about their owners. They also exhibit these behaviors toward dog owners. He says that people, and especially cats and dogs, exhibit behavior that is strikingly comparable to this.
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