|▶Can Animals Help Heal People? (2022-01-28)|
Programs using animals to calm patients and reduce tension are called animal therapy.
In the United States, these treatments are popular, although there is a lack of evidence to show that they work.
There are, however, many stories about animal therapy helping people. For example, some children have a fear of injections. That may make getting the COVID-19 vaccine a difficult experience.
So, some hospitals use therapy animals -- like Ollie, a six-year-old therapy dog. Ollie is helping children at Rady Children's Hospital in San Diego, California overcome their fear of vaccine shots.
One of those children is nine-year-old Avery Smith. At the children’s hospital, she cried over her fear of the vaccine. Then, Ollie came in and sat at her feet. Avery told a Reuters reporter about her experience.
"It helped me because I never had a COVID vaccine before,” said Avery. She added, “I didn't know what it felt like. But when I saw the dog it helped me calm down."
Early in November, children in the United States aged five to 11 were able to get the vaccine. Ever since then, Ollie and 14 other dogs have been helping them get vaccinated at the California hospital. They are part of a therapy program paid for by a pet supply company.
Even before the vaccine, therapy dogs were already being used at the children's hospital. Some children at the hospital are fighting cancer or other serious diseases.
Kristin Gist is a 75-year-old dog therapy volunteer and a former hospital programs director. She is also Ollie’s owner. Gist said parents will sometimes hold the dog and seem to feel better too.
However, some experts say there is a lack of scientific evidence proving that animal therapy improves a patient’s medical condition.
One such expert is Hal Herzog. He is a professor of psychology at Western Carolina University. He has been studying the relations between humans and animals for more than 20 years.
Herzog told VOA that an animal can distract a patient. Other things, he added, such as a favorite toy might have the same effect.
“Some studies have shown that for short-term preventing pain -- interacting with a dog can put your mind on something else. And in that case, I see no harm in doing it. And for some kids it’s probably going to be effective.”
However, Herzog criticized the use of animals as a medical treatment, like a drug. He said research does not show that animal therapy is effective.
“There’s been tons of research, but most of it is not very good. And some studies have found…some of the better studies have found that therapy dogs did not really have any impact on kids and adults that were put in stressful, experimental situations.”
[December 06, 2021]