Animals may be nothing to some, something for all to many and few .

Love, companionship and tenderness are, in many cases, the best medicine and do not always come through the neighbor. Researchers, practitioners, institutions and other professionals implement innovative programs of animal-assisted therapy, because these can also be used for therapeutic purposes.

Animal-assisted therapy (AAT)

Animal assisted therapy is a direct and pre objectives where an animal that meets specific criteria as part participates essential for the treatment intervention. It has been designed to promote physical, social, emotional and cognitive benefits in a variety of environments, individually or in groups, relying on different animals. The whole process must have been previously designed and subsequently evaluated. 1

Defined two types of therapy : at the most basic is simply to enjoy the company of a pet, it can also bring profits, both physical and mental; on the other are genuine rehabilitation schemes with the help of animals, not necessarily domestic, coordinated by a doctor and a multidisciplinary team and usually reinforced with special therapeutic indications for people with psychomotor problems.

Has emerged in a variety of activities, starting with occasional interventions have become supported procedures and supported by scientific research to obtain a valid recognition results, so that when compared to traditional techniques and methods are more rapid, effective and accepted. Such actions are called alternative therapies for rehabilitation and become an important resource for the occupational therapist.


By the World Health is all total or partial reduction of the ability to perform a complex or integrated activity, represented on tasks, skills and behaviors. Today the word is not considered disability as synonymous with disabilities , because the latter is a term that limits the patient and has a connotation rather sociocultural.


It is conceived as a dynamic process and part of a system composed of a professional team that combines efforts around a goal and a person with limitations, overlooking an active role in the process, which also involves external, economic factors, social and cultural.

Rehabilitation seeks to improve the physical and intellectual capacities of these individuals on the basis of scientific advances, respect, human dignity and the right they have a better quality of life, participate in social development and enjoy equal opportunities.

History of animal-assisted therapy

Historically, animals have been part of therapeutic programs to help people.

In the century XVII began in Europe some projects (not as now conceived) in which the horse was an equal partner in the treatment and rehabilitation of persons with high degree of physical disability; then those attempts were extended to the United States and currently more than 500 therapeutic riding programs with this human purpose. In England, in the Retreat of York (founded in 1792) as therapy animals were used; and in the medical literature of the century XIX references goodness riding to treat gout, neurological disorders and low self esteem is already registered. Later (1897), the animals involved in the treatment of people with epilepsy in Bethel, Bielfield and Germany.

The first documentation of animal-assisted therapy company, well used, was concerning the rehabilitation of flyers Army Air Convalescent Center in Pawling, New York (1944-1945), where animals were used to distract the military receiving intensive therapy programs.

In 1966, the blind musician Erling Stordahl founded in Norway Beitostölen Center to treat blind and disabled persons; institution where dogs and horses intervened to encourage patients to exercise. It was in 1953 when Jingles, the psychiatrist can Boris M. Levinson, unintentionally showed the owner the potential it had as co-therapist and perhaps since then began to be applied rigorously and scientifically assisted therapy animals. Later Samuel and Elizabeth Corson, stimulated by the work of the aforementioned physician, decided to evaluate the feasibility of this therapeutic mechanism in a hospital setting and obtained excellent results. Also outstanding experience David Lee, a social worker from the state hospital in Lima, Ohio, where he interned people with dangerous mental illnesses, for there animals acted as catalysts for social interactions between caregivers and patients, and between them insane together.

Regarding as seeing-eye guide dog for the blind, its use dates back to ancient times : in China is reflected in painting yellow spring?? (1250 BC) and in Pompeii in a similar image (70 BC), so that was already considered a terrific idea since ancient times.

In 1730, Mr. Reisenger saw fit to tell how a dog trained to assist blind people to locate objects, search for tickets and find doors, among other skills.


Service dogs

In the 50 assistance dogs were used and later began training some to alert people with hearing disabilities about sounds like children crying or screaming, banging on the door, telephone ringing, or clock, fire and smoke alarms , microwave ovens, intruders or someone calling them by name. Currently these applications have diversified even further, so much so that assistance animals are able to warn of dangerous seizures or changes in blood glucose levels and others are trained to help people with more than one disability.

By 1970 these functions were expanded and began training animals to support for individuals with mobility difficulties. 1 People who have a service dog, usually have conditions such as spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, paralysis cerebral, post-polio syndrome and acquired brain damage.

Service dogs are used for 3 main functions : to improve the mobility of the person, reaching and facilitate socialization and independence. They also teach other tasks like pushing wheelchairs, open doors, turn on and off lights, reach for the phone and collect various objects. They can support with balance during movement, the street people with impaired mobility, as these are raised, thereby lowering the amount of time and physical effort expended by the person or caregiver and allow more efficient use resource. 8

These dogs can not be distracted with any situation and must be able to cope comfortably wherever people or other animals are, no signs of aggression. Among the breeds selected as guide predominate Ploughman, the golden retriever and the German shepherd; as assistance dogs for people with other disabilities: the Labrador retriever and the golden retriever , and as therapy dogs, any breed that meets the conditions.

From the psychological point of view, dogs adopt a loving and strong attachment to the human attitude, without making value judgments , plus it can be excellent guides. They are playful, affectionate, playful and are at our side faithfully throughout his life. Petting a dog regulates the values ​​of blood pressure, breathing rate and heartbeat, promotes friendship between the owners and the responsibility for their care in children. When dogs are placed in nursing homes, they receive fewer physician visits, but their families.

· Cats

Authors of multiple research suggests that having a cat is beneficial to health. The friendly contact with the cat reduces stress in their owners, who are relaxed and soothed. It was also verified that individuals with psychological conditions improve company having the animal, as has been observed in U.S. with heart disease. 

From the psychological point of view, the cat teaches us to be relaxed with consciousness, as though he may be asleep while he learns everything that happens around him , no stressed cat. His purr fosters positive emotions and small signs of affection are very well received by their owners. It is recommended especially for people who live unaccompanied or feel very alone and can not devote much time caring for your pet.


The use of various animals for therapeutic purposes in different types of institutions reported physical, psychological and social benefits in their interaction with humans, that allows to maintain or improve the quality of life of people; however, insufficient bibliographic references on the subject in the country and is required to systematize the use of these techniques as a source of appeal of the occupational therapist in the rehabilitation process.

In fact, in the hands of every professional to achieve a positive therapeutic outcome with the help of animals in treatment, as these put all their heart and nature available to those who need it and are special to the people who are with them too.

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