“He just got me,” my daughter told me, sobbing, after our dog (McKinnley), a Miniature American Eskimo of sixteen years, passed away this past Summer. Little did I understand the therapeutic value our old family member had in the dynamics of our family until after he was gone. His aging old bones and slow-moving posture did not keep him from being a very integral part of each of my teens’ center point of gravity and wholeness at this key time in their lives. He was indeed good therapy for them.
For my daughter, she felt that McKinnley understood her and knew when she was down and needed him by her side. My youngest son loved to lay on the floor by him and cuddle. My middle son was attached to him like a brother. He would take him to bed with him at night and after his passing, revealed to me that he would sit and just talk to him when he felt like no one else would listen. For my eldest son, he was a life long companion that he had always known. They never knew life without him.
Animals all over the world play these same roles in the lives of others, especially dogs. Whether as seeing eye dogs, a comfort to a dying child, a playful companion to a toddler, or company for a widow, dogs have a keen sense of awareness to man and offer a therapeutic healing buffer to whatever we are going through.
Studies done in teens have shown that when they are given opportunities to put time and work into caring for animals, it actually relieves depression and anxiety while calming them and relieving stress as well. These same teens are found to have an increased motivation in life including those that have difficulty focusing. Other benefits of animal therapy include learning compassion, leadership and communication skills and even gaining self-confidence. (Resource article; Animal Assisted Therapy Proves Successful With Troubled Teens)
The best part of looking for an animal to be a recipient of this important kind of therapy, that could even be life-saving, is that we get to choose what kind of animal we want and need. It’s that easy. There are millions of dogs and cats in shelters all over the country that need us as much as we need them. The Humane Society takes great pride in adopting these furry, friendly creatures out to loving families. If dogs and cats aren’t your cup of tea, consider, birds, turtles, fish and/or horses. For the reptile lover, there are snakes or lizards to dote over. Any animal can be therapy if you put your heart into them. Whatever your taste, there is an animal for you.
We have since adopted a new dog to bring healing to our family. Her name is Swiss and she is a three-year old Lab-Shepherd Mix. I recently asked my daughter when she was nestled under a blanket watching a movie with Swiss curled right up next to her, does she get you? She grinned and replied, “Yes mom, she gets me.”