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Over the years, I have watched and personally witnessed the magical power of pets and children. Having a pet in a child’s life can help in the early cognitive development, encouraging them to crawl and then walk, and later help boost a child’s IQ and reading skills. My daughter, Sarah, learned how to walk by having the determination to get our dog Rocky’s furry tail. Countless schools have programs with children reading to dogs. By the scent of a dog’s treat on the pages within the book, the child believes the dog is trying to read along with them, when really it is sniffing for the treat. The dog’s focus on the pages encourages the child to want to read longer.
Studies have shown, that having a pet can lower blood pressure and heart rate, and reduce anxiety. Depression is a common mental illness. One teenage girl was hospitalized for severe depression and suicidal tendencies. Nothing seemed to help her. Dogs were brought in for visits. Gradually the girl began to feel better. She went home and began volunteering at the local shelter, where she walked dogs. She even adopted a couple of kittens, and gradually recovered from the illness.
Pet therapy is the healing power of animals. They have the power to comfort through unconditional love, the power to ease our pain, and the power to give us the strength and courage to keep going when life hands us a difficult situation to deal with. Animals used in pet therapy include dogs, cats, rabbits, horses, chickens, donkeys, llamas, and even pot- bellied pigs.
My own dog, Rocky, helped me through a debilitating disease, and gave me the strength and courage to keep hanging on to life. Through his unconditional love, I was able to survive! I feel everything in our life happens for a reason. I now speak about pet therapy to others and use my dogs to help many children cope.
Rocky passed away in 2001 but will forever live in my heart. I have written a children’s book series titled, “Rocky’s Journey”, in his memory. My first book in the series, “Rocky’s Trip To The Hospital,” is based on my own story of triumphing over sickness, through the power of pet therapy. I take this book along with my certified pet therapy dogs, Molly and Willy, into Children’s Hospitals. I share with the children my story, read them Rocky’s book, and then the dogs do their magic.
Many of the children I visit have been hospitalized for weeks. They are depressed, missing their normal life at home, missing their friends, and if they have one, missing their pet. When the children see the dogs, with their wagging tails, they brighten right up. You can see the life literally coming back into these children. Laughter fills their eyes, huge smiles appear on their tiny faces, and positive energy fills the room. Hospital life can be very scary for children. I watch the dogs cuddling their furry bodies into the children, licking them and comforting them. Some of the children will even share their fears with the dogs. They talk out loud to the dogs, saying things they don’t tell others. Every child says the dogs visit has helped them feel better. I know that it also helps the parents cope.
Willy has a very special gift. He has a comical snore. He will curl up beside a child, and while they are petting him, he becomes relaxed. The more relaxed he is, the louder and deeper the snore becomes. Even the sickest child will laugh at this. This comical snore helps the children take their focus off their pain.
When a nurse, or parent, is having a difficult time convincing a child to take their medicine, Molly comes to the rescue. With her big brown eyes, she stares at the child. Molly will reach out her paw to them and wag her tail. If they take the medicine, Molly will do a trick for them, and they are allowed to give her a treat. For every sip of medicine they have to take, Molly reaches out her paw and will do a different trick. This encourages the children to quickly finish the medicine, so that they can give Molly more treats, and see all her tricks. Molly has been successful with every child.
I paid a visit to one very sick child, in her hospital room. She had gone through three surgeries in one week. She was weak and very pale, and had been focusing on how terrible her pain was. I read her my book, “Rocky’s Trip To The Hospital”. Because the dog was in the lounge area, and could not come to her room, I gave her an autographed photo of us. As she was gazing at the photo, I observed a sparkle appear in her eyes, and the colour came back to her cheeks. She asked me if I would help her into a wheelchair, so she could go down to the lounge and pet the dog. With the nurse’s approval we headed out. The nurse agreed with me, that a visit to the dog would be great medicine for this child. Just seeing the wagging tail waiting to greet her, gave her strength and a more positive attitude. Only half an hour earlier, she had been in her bed, too weak to move, and now she was asking to take the dog for a walk down the hall herself. She said she felt strong enough to use her arms to wheel the chair, while hanging on to the leash. She was glowing as she accomplished this task. We all watched with joy in our hearts and tears in our eyes.
Pet therapy can occur anywhere. Recently at a school, where I was giving a presentation about pet therapy, a little boy slowly walked up to the front of the room with his head hanging. He had such sadness written all over his young face. When he finally got up beside me, he began to cry, and he shared his story with me. He said that he wished my dog had been with his grandfather the night before. His grandfather had died alone, and this terribly upset the little boy. Before I could say anything, Willy who was lying quietly on the floor beside us, sat up and reached out to the little boy. It was clear that Willy sensed his pain. The boy held Willy tightly in his arms. With Willy licking the tears away, we all watched as a smile appeared on the boy’s tiny face. One hundred and twenty children, at that presentation, witnessed the power of pet therapy. Willy showed unconditional love for a child in pain.
Pets are magical. They sense our needs and comfort us. They truly give unconditional love. I would encourage you to make a difference for your child, by bringing an animal into their life! It can be a wonderful learning experience, and also be very healing!
To learn more about Sue London visit www.rockysjourney.com