For many years, health care providers have recognized the benefits of interacting with pets, a process often referred to as “pet therapy”. As long ago as 1860, Florence Nightingale commented that “a small pet is often an excellent companion for the sick, for long chronic cases especially”.
Pet therapy has been studied on heart patients, children and seniors, as a way to promote quality of life and provide positive health benefits. According to a recent article in Wave, Winnipeg’s health and wellness magazine, the company of an animal can lower blood pressure, cholesterol and a triglyceride level, in turn helping manage heart disease.
The same article stated that people with dogs or cats tend to have better recovery rates from heart attacks. Pets can also help people better cope with depression and stress-related disorders. Of course, there are scientific reasons for this. Stroking a pet releases feel-good hormones in the body, such as serotonin, prolactin and oxytocin, which help people relax.
Pets are used in many therapeutic situations. Pet therapy can provide support for people with physical disabilities and provide companionship to people with mental health challenges. In many personal care homes, pet therapy is common.
If you have ever owned a pet, you know the benefits (even if you don’t look forward to walking the dog in minus 30-degree weather):
• Pets provide humans with love, affection and companionship.
• Pets can encourage good health through regular exercise.
• Pets can offer a sense of security and protection.
• Pets can help us relax and make us laugh.
• Pets can provide mental stimulation, reduce loneliness and give us a sense of being needed.
• Animals can be a conversation piece, helping us to make friends and socialize.
• Animals are good listeners, are non-judgmental and will keep all discussions confidential.
Not everyone, however, is in a position to own a pet. If owning a pet is not an option, consider volunteering at an animal shelter. In addition, some programs bring animals to people in places where pet ownership may be restricted. The St. John Ambulance Therapy Dog Services brings a volunteer pet-handler and their dog to hospitals, seniors’ homes, schools, health care facilities and other places. They visit people of all ages who can benefit from the unconditional love of dogs. Partnerships in these settings make therapy dog visits easy and regular.
For more information about becoming a volunteer, or having visits, call the St. John Ambulance Manitoba office: in Winnipeg at 204-784-7000; email, firstname.lastname@example.org; or St. John Ambulance Brandon office at 204-727-4466; email, email@example.com.
Age & Opportunity support services for older adults also offers its Paws with a Cause therapy dog program. This program matches older adults with volunteer visitors in partnership with St. John Ambulance therapy dogs. For more information, contact A & O support services at 204-956-6440 in Winnipeg.
If you are looking for a place to rent for you and your pet, I encourage you to read the renting with pets section on the Manitoba government’s Residential Tenancies Branch website at www.gov.mb.ca/cca/rtb/. In addition, for information on the province’s new pet damage deposit, please contact the Residential Tenancies Branch at 204-945-2476; toll free 1-800-782-8403; email, firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Winnipeg Humane Society has a list of pet-friendly apartments in Winnipeg on its website at www.winnipeghumanesociety.ca/pet-friendly-housing. Landlords with pet-friendly buildings can contact the society at 204-982-3555 or email@example.com to be added to the list.
As always, I invite you to contact the seniors information line with any comments or questions. Call 204-945-6565 in Winnipeg; toll free, 1-800-665-6565.
Hon. Jim Rondeau is Minister of Healthy Living, Seniors and Consumer Affairs.