Pet therapy showcases the joy animals bring to our lives and the endless ways they improve it. But the pet therapy of yesterday is no longer. Pet Partners (formerly The Delta Society) now registers nine different species for certification. Now besides dogs, certified pet therapy pets include cats, horses, rabbits, guinea pigs, llamas and alpacas, birds, pigs and rats. And each one brings something new to the party.
Pet Partners was founded in 1977 and has certified 50,000 teams since foundation, performing more than 1 million visits to people in need.
Let's step out of the box and highlight some of the incredible animals that improve human lives every chance they can.
Meet Daphne and Sienna, Wyoming's Pet Partners' only two certified guinea pigs. These tiny little helpers bring the surprise element when they visit as therapy pets, but it also conjures up those memories of early first pets for many people. Coupled with the fact that they come in a cute little basket to meet residents at the Central Wyoming Hospice, according to Small Pet Select, the smiles start from the moment they walk in the door.
Little Daphne tends to fall asleep if left to lie for more than 30 seconds, making her just the right snuggler to allow residents to pet the gentle guinea pig and run their fingers through her fur.
Watch as another certified therapy guinea pig, Emma the Wonderpig, visits a Cumberland County nursing home in North Carolina. Emma is one of 22 certified therapy guinea pigs across the U.S. See the magic she brings when she visits.
Horses bring a unique opportunity to pet therapy. They help troubled, abused and disabled people, people with mental disorders and more. With a horse's soul, you feel at peace. Horse people know it from the first encounter they have with the special creatures, and it never leaves. Now thanks to the many therapy programs across the country that involve horses, more "horse people" enter society's secret club daily.
The Autism Spectrum Disorder Foundation has long recognized the benefits and improvements horses bring to autistic children. One such PATH International-certified therapy horse program is through the fabulous people at Strides THC.
Strides THC offers two therapy programs, adaptive riding and hippotherapy. Adaptive riding brings therapeutic benefits through physical strength, muscle tone and balance as well as social benefits including self-esteem, self-control and self-confidence. Adaptive riding is an individual skills riding program. Hippotherapy comes from the Greek word "hippo," meaning horse. It involves an intensive one-on-one therapy session working on such skills as physical, occupational and speech therapy while using the horse's movement as treatment. Horse riding creates a multi-sensorytherapy like no other.
One of the favorite horses at Strides is Hope, a beautiful chestnut rescued from a slaughterhouse. She has helped so many children through her therapy work at Strides, even having one mother boast "that her child is less aggressive, is demonstrating more spontaneous talking and is going to bed at a more appropriate time," according to Strides THC. What a win/win situation for this amazing horse and those whose lives she improves.
Another rescued therapy animal giving back is a delightful little bunny named LuLu. LuLu was found freezing to death in a box by a dumpster, abandoned cruelly. But she was lucky to survive and have a little new best friend named Teddy Graham.
"Our tiny house rabbit Teddy Graham would spend his days lying next to her pen. He rarely left her side," adopted owner Jennifer Smith said, according to the Huffington Post. "Lulu just laid there in her sick, broken kind of way. Teddy went right up to her and started kissing her face. ...Teddy saved Lulu, and Lulu adores Teddy for his devotion to her."
Once certified, Teddy Graham and LuLu started visiting with Alzheimer's and dementia patients. And the results, well, they are a regular sight around the nursing home they visit. Bunnies bring a gentle calmness to people, and with these two, it's doubled.
Axel Rose the bunny provides smiles at Valle Verde Health Center in Val Verde, Calif.
When was the last time you saw a pair of therapy pigs, in a green wagon rolling up to visit Alzheimer's patients? Meet the superstars, 1-year-old miniature pot-bellied therapy pigs Boris and Pumba, shares USA Today. This video tells more than we can ever do about the silly piggies that bring joy to those they repeatedly meet.
How many of us can say we have ever even seen an alpaca, let alone petted one? Napoleon the alpaca is one of the most endearing little guys you will ever meet. While alpacas are friendly by nature, Napoleon is a real people lover, says Little Things. His work is legendary in his hometown of Portland, Ore., where he visits schools, hospitals, senior communities and rehab facilities. The surprise of seeing the alpaca dressed to impress, no less, brings a unique joyful event every time he visits. It's like a holiday, and the residents are long talking about Napoleon even after he has exited the building.
Dogs are still the most widely used, of course, but you can see the unique skill set each of these "other" therapy species bring to the table. People love an animal, that's the bottom line. They enrich our lives and animal people couldn't imagine their lives without them. It would be hard to be a temporary or permanent resident in a facility without animals. So when it's pet therapy day, the giggles and smiles and celebratory atmosphere has long-lasting effects even for the non-believers, who once witness the vast improvement they bring, become believers.