Animal Therapy: 7 Incredible Initiatives Helping To Change Lives

We owe them so much.

Animals are wonderful for many reasons.

They're cuddly, they keep us company during our loneliest hours and they have this magical ability to make us feel better, even after the worst of days.

Over the years, animal therapy has grown in popularity and there are now dogs, cats, and even horses, who are specially trained to comfort and help us in our time of need.

Here, we highlight just some of the fantastic animal therapy initiatives out there right now.

The Dogs Comforting Orlando Shooting Survivors

Earlier this week, following the mass nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida, 12 comfort dogs and their handlers travelled across the US to lend a helping paw.

The group was organised by Lutheran Church Charities (LCC), Chicago. All of the dogs are specially trained to help people cope in times of crisis.

LCC president Tim Hetzner told The Dodo: "Everyone loves petting the dogs. It helps them talk. When you pet a dog, your blood pressure goes down and you relax.

"When you relax, there's a greater chance that you'll want to talk about what you've been through."

The Donkeys Befriending Elderly People In Homes

The Elisabeth Svendsen Trust takes donkeys into care homes across the UK to brighten residents’ days.

The trust has six centres across the UK - in Belfast, Birmingham, Ivybridge, Leeds, Manchester and Sidmouth - and runs an outreach programme that involves taking their donkeys to residential homes and hospices.

Suzi Cretney from the charity said: "Donkeys from The Elisabeth Svendsen Trust for Children and Donkeys (EST) are warmly greeted by residents whose faces light up when they see their four-legged friends walk into communal lounges, or even, in the case of less mobile residents, into their bedrooms as our special donkeys are uniquely trained to go up in lifts.

"Everybody enjoys these special visits, from the most able bodied to the frailest or most withdrawn resident."

The trust also provides donkey-assisted therapy for children with additional needs.

The Dogs Helping Calm Nervous Children At The Dentist

Visiting the dentist can be a terrifying experience for anyone. But one dental surgery is helping young patients overcome their fears by introducing them to their furry four-legged assistant, JoJo.

The golden retriever is specially trained to help anxious children get through their appointment.

JoJo, who is listed as a member of staff at the Pediatric Dentistry of Northbrook, Illinois, helps to calm and comfort patients who would otherwise need nitrous oxide or sedatives to help them relax.

She will lie across a patient’s body with her head placed on their lap. This not only eases their anxiety but it also helps to keep them still.

Veronica Renteria, a member of staff from the clinic, said: "When JoJo is there, the appointments go much smoother and quicker for them. And the doctor gets to perform the work as it’s meant to be done."

The Dogs Saving Diabetic People's Lives

Medical Detection Dogs is just one of many organisations helping to train assistance dogs for insulin-dependent diabetics in the UK.

Dorrie Nuttall knows just how important these dogs are. Her son Luke, 7, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when he was just two years old.

Back in March this year, Dorrie Nuttall told on Facebook of how her son's therapy dog Jedi had saved his life.

Jedi monitors Luke's blood sugar levels by smell. When Luke's blood sugar levels started to drop one evening while he was sleeping, the dog alerted his family immediately, which enabled them to save the child's life.

If Jedi hadn't have been there, Luke might not have woken up.

The Cats Helping People With Disabilities

Alamanda Therapy Animals is a non-profit charity which is home to a wide range of animals including dogs, cats and miniature horses.

The animals are used to help the "sick, needy and terminally ill".

Goliath (pictured above) is a therapy cat for the Essex-based charity. He visits hospices, care homes, special needs schools and hospitals.

"He is simply stunning, a truly amazing cat in lots of ways," reads the charity's website.

"He has an adorable temperament - he goes to hospices, care homes, special needs schools and even hospitals, and he takes it all in his stride.

"He goes on his special harness and is a total star wherever he goes."

The Dogs Helping Stroke Survivors' Rehabilitation

The ‘Stroke and PAT’ project is a collaborative venture between Pets As Therapy; Sallie Bollans, founding director of Stroke Rehab Dogs; and the Ruth Winston Centre.

The initiative provides therapeutic opportunities for stroke survivors, of all ages and backgrounds, who have specific rehabilitation goals and who would benefit from working with companion animals.

According to Pets As Therapy, who are based in High Wycombe, introducing a companion animal into the therapy session can result in patients feeling "more at ease, more communicative and motivated to engage in therapy".

The Miniature Horses Helping Sick Kids Feel Better

Carousel Miniature Therapy Horses

The tiny horses are part of non-profit charity Carousel Miniature Therapy Horses, which brings a touch of magic to hospitals, hospice programs, and children who have experienced traumatic events.

The horses have visited tornado survivors, child trafficking victims and, more recently, kids in Greek orphanages to “bring their special love where it is needed most”.

Debbie Garcia-Bengochea, education director of Gentle Carousel Miniature Therapy Horses told The Huffington Post: "While a large horse can be intimidating to a small child or fragile senior, the miniature horses are easier for them to trust and befriend.

"The carefully bred tiny horses have years of training, which means they’re well suited to people who want equine experiences but maybe can’t ride a horse or travel to a stable."

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