Benefits researchers are finding through the use of animal assisted therapy:
• Animals help bring out feelings of love.
• Animals are good companions.
• Animals are fun and therefore help reduce stress.
• Animals are a good reason to get out of the house, spend time outdoors, and meet new people.
• Animals don’t judge. To a pet, it doesn’t matter how you look, what you’re wearing, or where you live. Pets accept a person just as they are.
• Animals provide safe, non-threatening touch. A physically or sexually abused child may not want anyone-not even their non-offending parent-to touch them. Yet they will want to pet, hold or even hug a dog or cat. This kind of interaction can make a significant difference for a child who otherwise would have no positive or appropriate contact.
• What a child sees with an animal is what they get. Animals don’t “play games”-they are direct with youth, which makes it easy for them to understand what the animal is doing.
• Animals can provide a non-threatening and safe channel for communication. A child who sees an animal is more likely to project their feelings and experiences onto that animal because they feel communication with that animal is safer than talking to another person.
• Animals are a “four-legged spa”. Tests show that when pets are present, they help decrease heart rates and blood pressure among the people who interact with them. Having animals around can also help increase good feelings within children, who need to have encouragement and a positive environment in order to begin healing from the effects of abuse.
*Statistics taken from Safe Horizons
Dogs can connect with youth in a way that humans can’t. Many of the young people in the programs – whether they are in foster care, the juvenile justice system or affluent with absent parents – have had cause in their lives to distrust adults. But, they feel at ease around dogs.
“They’ve fallen on broken promises time and time again and anyone who says something to them they’re like, ‘Uh huh,’ even if that person has the best of intentions and is trying to help them,” Hilary says. “They see a dog that has been kicked to the curb as they feel they have and it’s an instant connection. Instant. You show them the dog and tell them the dog’s story and it’s like a magnet.”
Having the dog with them helps the children open up in therapy. Studies are showing that many kids will talk when they have an animal with them and they will talk to that animal, where they won’t talk when it’s just them and an adult.
Beyond the emotional connection with the dogs, the programs expose youth to people and professionals they might not have been otherwise – from dog trainer to photographer – and it often plants a seed in them, gives them something to strive for and lighting a path out of their current situations.
Through Hilaroo, at-risk youth and orphaned dogs are given hope and eventually the dogs will be permanently rescued and rehabilitated and the youth will have a stable place to go, a dedicated dog to care for and receive life training exercises to prepare them both for better lives.