The Value of Animal-Assisted Therapy in Addiction Treatment

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The simple joy of animal companionship has an almost universal ability to brighten someone’s day. Animals often bring smiles to our faces, but people may not have considered the benefits our furry friends can provide in a clinical setting. Unsurprisingly, though, spending time with animals has been shown to have numerous measurable health benefits.

The calming effect dogs can have on soldiers suffering from PTSD has been documented by Purdue University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. Colleges and universities have increasingly begun to leverage these stress-reducing benefits, providing opportunities for students to visit with animals during exam weeks. Studies have been published showing that time spent with dogs can reduce the symptoms of depression and anxiety, and some research suggests that petting a dog for just 10 minutes can provide significant health benefits.

Animal Companionship Where It’s Needed Most

To bring the benefits of therapy animal visitation into community-based organizations, Deb Gibbs, a veterinary technician at Tufts University helped to create an initiative called Tufts Paws for People. This non-profit is associated with the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University and is supported by the Center for Animals and Public Policy.

The program was started in 2006 to provide therapy animal visitation within Tufts University and elsewhere. Since its inception, Paws for People has grown to almost 80 members throughout MA, RI, CT, and NH, and provides animal-assisted therapy for individuals in a variety of community-based organizations such as elder care facilities, hospice care, cancer treatment centers, schools, and many other organizations. Tufts Paws has enjoyed the collaborations that have been created with many facilities such as the one with New England Recovery Center, which gives volunteers ample opportunities to connect in a way especially meaningful for all participants.

Bringing Smiles to Treatment

In the field of addiction recovery, animal-assisted therapy can be immensely valuable. That’s why the New England Recovery Center ensures weekly client access to therapy animals through the Paws for People program. By connecting with these well-trained and loving animals, clients find joy and companionship. Bonding with therapy animals helps those battling addiction feel less isolated and alone, especially during the holidays – a time of year that often presents difficulty for those in recovery.

Canine companionship also helps with many of the issues that can come with substance use disorders. Because individuals battling addiction are more likely to have a co-occurring disorder like PTSD, depression, or anxiety, therapy animals can be especially helpful for providing relief in a treatment setting. Paws for People also believes that spending time with therapy dogs encourages communication and inspires motivation, while providing comfort and a sense of community – all very important things for those in recovery to have.

Creating Safe and Positive Experiences

Because the volunteers and their animals work with individuals facing various health risks and vulnerabilities, Paws for People are intent on making sure the animal companionship they provide is safe for all involved. Volunteers for the program first must register with Pet Partners® to certify their pet for animal-assisted therapy. There are also vaccination requirements, grooming standards, dietary restrictions, and other requirements for animals in the Paws for People program. But once certified, these noble public servants can commence the important work of spreading hope and happiness. We’re thankful for our partners at Tufts Paws for People and for our regular visitors, Bear and Mr. Beau Jangles and their loving pet parents – gratitude we’re “pawsitive” our clients also share.

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, call the New England Recovery Center today at 1-877-MyRehab to speak with a member of our admissions team. To learn more about Paws for People, visit their website at https://hai.tufts.edu/paws/

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