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Animal Assisted Therapy and Cancer Patients

    It has long been known that animals provide comfort to people who are undergoing stress. Today we are discovering the positive benefits of AAT or Animal Assisted Therapy in many situations ranging from dogs who support a child in court who's testifying in his or her own abuse case to dogs who visit hospital patients.
    Cancer patients in particular face many deep emotional challenges during the diagnosis of their condition and into treatment. Some treatment centers offer friendly dogs who spend time in the waiting room visiting and cheer up the people who are preparing for their chemotherapy. In a 2007 study done in Italy, the patient group had increased blood oxygen levels and reported decreased depression when therapy dogs were present during chemo sessions.
    Most therapy animals are dogs and to be considered certified as a Therapy Dog, there are stringent tests they must first pass. Dogs are primarily chosen for their calm, friendly personalities and they are trained in basic obedience and good canine manners. As part of their training, they are also exposed to sounds and smells that they might encounter in a clinic or hospital that they would not normally encounter so they will not react to these stimuli when they're on the job.
    I will never forget my own experience of shadowing a Therapy Dog Team one afternoon in a large Phoenix hospital; our last stop firmed up my belief in the therapeutic value of animals. The fellow in the bed was connected to many tubes and sensors and looked pretty beat up. But he visibly brightened when he saw the small black dog standing in his doorway and readily consented to having a visit. Her handler gently placed her partner on his bed, carefully avoiding all the tubes. The patient smiled broadly and began reminiscing about his boyhood dog growing up on a farm in the Midwest, all the while petting his new friend who seemed delighted at doing a good job. Afterward, the two of them posed for a photo together and as we were leaving, I felt so happy to have been a part of that magical, uplifting moment.
    In closing here is a quote from an oncologist at a nationally known treatment center:
    ”A pet is a medication without side effects that has so many benefits. I can’t always explain it myself, but for years now I’ve seen how instances of having a pet is like an effective drug. It really does help people.”

    - Dr. Edward Creagan, Oncologist at Mayo Clinic Rochester, Minnesota

    Deborah Dobson, FizzNiche Staff Writer