Animals sometimes play a role in maintaining human health, particularly in connection with
long-term elder care in nursing homes and with patients suffering from certain forms of psychological disorders, especially children with autism and social anxiety. Generally, dogs and cats are most often used for animal-assisted therapy, after being checked and cleared by a veterinarian and then certified by a non-profit organization called ?Pet Partners? that
trains people to facilitate the use of their pets for therapeutic purposes. Other animals, including farm animals, horses, and even captive dolphin have also been used successfully, especially with children being treated for social disorders and severe autism-related disabilities.
The most common applications of animal-assisted therapy include allowing nursing home patients and those living in long-term assisted-care facilities to have the opportunity to spend quality time interacting with the animals. According to the empirical literature and
overwhelming anecdotal evidence, elderly patients who have the opportunity to interact with animals in animal-assisted-therapy exhibit lower levels of depression, stress, pain, and social withdrawal than patients who do not. Likewise, studies of patients undergoing physical therapy and rehabilitation determined that patients who participate in animal-assisted therapy are more likely to show up for their appointments and to work harder and longer on therapeutic tasks than patients participating only in traditional therapy and rehabilitation.
By far, the most dramatic beneficial effects of animal-assisted therapy relate to psychological health and wellbeing. More specifically, the interaction with animals promotes positive moods and corresponds to measurable decreases in stress hormones and instances of antisocial or non-cooperative behavior, and increases in patient cooperation and self-reported feelings of wellbeing. In fact, some of these positive effects of interacting with animals in the human health care setting even extends to health care providers, such as demonstrated in studies measuring objective variables (like reduction in blood pressure and improvement in work performance) and subjective variables (like improvement in mood and motivation).
It is thought that the physical contact involved in the act of petting an animal that appreciates that physical and the interactive element of communicating to a responsive animal can promote positive emotions, especially among elderly patients who may no longer have any other opportunity to express physical affection with friends or loved ones simply because they have outlived all of them. Where animal-assisted therapy also includes participating in caring for the animals (such as grooming them or feeding or
walking them), elderly residents of nursing homes seem to benefit from the
sense of being needed and from the responsibility of caring for someone else,
because they are so dependent on others in their living situation.
Animal-assisted therapy has proven to be a very useful mechanism for promoting social initiative and involvement on the part of adults suffering from certain psychological disorders associated with asocial behavior as well as with children suffering from extreme shyness and autism. In many documented cases, children who had never previously responded to therapy or spoken a word began responding and communicating, first to the animals with whom they were introduced, and then with their human therapists for the first time. Psychological theorists suggest that some of these observed results are attributable to the fundamental psychological elements that also explain why human beings have always chosen to keep animals as pets in the first place.
Dr. Paul has a strong interest in avian and exotic animal medicine and surgery, as well as small animal internal medicine and surgery.
He has provided services for numerous breeders, kennels, aviaries, and mini zoos.