Animal Helpers: Benefits and Types

Animals and humans can develop a therapeutic bond. Pets can be a great companion for anyone, but especially for those who have a disability, go to rehabilitation or are living a difficult time.

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The main benefits of interacting with animals

Our self-esteem increases when an animal pays us attention. They need care, so we look for information, provide with what they need and follow the proper timetables; this leads to set goals and that our feeling of competence increases. Their rhythms can be comforting, a lot of them can be tender and very often make socialise with others. Certain animals like horses are also big and strong enough to take people on their backs, which (beyond being an enjoyable experience) allows people with mobility restrictions to work their muscles and balance when riding them.

People with disorders, addictions or shocks after a disaster can benefit from interacting with an animal. Also those staying at care homes, hospitals or prisons, as well as the ones waiting at the dentist’s office. Moreover, animals can be fun in regular events, such as birthdays, or institutions that would like to loosen protocol a bit. 

Regular and trained pets can be animal helpers in diverse situations. Let’s describe the main ones and the most common terminology: therapy animal, service animal and emotional support animal.

What is a therapy animal?

Animal-assisted therapy (AAT) is a programme set by a health professional (like an OT), with one or several sessions that are adapted to a person and their condition.

On the other side, animal-assisted activities (AAA) are an open meet & greet, whether individually or in a group, leaded by professionals, animal experts or volunteers. Besides visiting programmes, there are specialised care farms.

In both cases (AAT and AAA), volunteer pet owners take their therapy animals to help people during the sessions. These docile creatures must fulfill several requirements according to the organisation in order to become therapy pets, concerning health safety and appropriate behaviour (being people-friendly, presentable and leashed if needed).

What is a service animal?

Service animals are specific species that are trained, registered and protected by law to help people with disabilities everywhere they go: they guide, assist and alert. In the UK, service animals are dogs: guide dogs for those with visual impairments or assistance dogs for people who seeks more independence. 

What is an emotional support animal?

A health professional that regularly treats a patient can prescribe them a pet, because it could improve their condition: an emotional support animal (ESA). There are not a lot of laws and official registers regarding this type, but frequently ESAs could go in vehicles and be allowed in non-pet places like households.

Although our society is more used to seeing different animals accompanying users in transport or social life activities, some people can think is just a trend and out of limits to see a turkey on plane. Sometimes, the presence of uncommon animals might just be prohibited in certain places.

In all cases, one must provide proper care to the pet, in the UK respecting the Animal Welfare Act of 2006. We must be aware that a pet is a commitment and that some species require a lot of research, attention and, sometimes, budget. If one thinks that a person could welcome certain species of pet, it seems wise to see first how they connect with a similar animal: you may like a ferret, but your child could prefer a turtle, so the best is to find it out on time.

Apparently non-important events, like spending five minutes with a puppy, could make huge differences in a lot of people’s lives. In IFS, we intend that our bathroom handrails become a secure point to grab and therefore promote mobility, autonomy and confidence among people with disabilities or temporary injuries. Likewise, we supply also automatic products that are easy to operate such as sensor taps, touchless soap dispensers or hand dryers for accessible toilets.

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