Materia Medica Malaysiana

August 13, 2007

Healing touch of animal friends

Filed under: Uncategorized — malaysianmedicine @ 9:54 am

NST: Dogs, cats and pet fish are being used to help the elderly, sick and disabled under an animal-assisted therapy programme. EILEEN NG writes about this little known feel-good remedy and how it has brought back the smiles for some people.

KUALA LUMPUR: Amber-Mae is no ordinary dog.
With a wag of her tail and a lick, this 18-month-old Golden Retriever can give a lift to the sick and depressed.
Amber-Mae and many of her furry friends are helping people in need of their feel-good powers.
They are involved in animal-assisted therapy (AAT) to spread cheer and speed up healing among the elderly, sick, disabled and even juvenile delinquents.
The therapy is used to improve patients’ physical, emotional and social well-being and motivate them to get well.
While AAT is commonly practised in the West, it is only starting to make its presence felt in Malaysia.
Currently, only dogs are being used, although some proponents said other animals, such as cats, birds, lizards, hamsters, rabbits and even fish can also do the job.
The dogs, together with their owners and handlers, usually go to old folk’s homes, youth centres and private homes and spend one to three hours a week with the residents.
Malaysian Animal-Assisted Therapy for the Disabled and Elderly Association (Petpositive) president Anthony Thanasayan said animals worked wonders in improving physical and emotional well-being.
He said while AAT was not a quick fix to solve all their ailments, the human-animal bonding helped to alleviate patients’ distress.
“Animals accept anyone unconditionally and this is a wonderful feeling, especially for a disabled who wants to be accepted as normal,” he said.
He said the disabled, elderly and the sick were more prone to depression and negative thoughts, and the presence of animals would help dispel that.
He said animals engaged in AAT must be neutered, sociable, outgoing, friendly and not fearful of sudden moves.
“We must also take into account the level of disability, for example, a bedridden person would not be able to handle dogs, so fish may be more suitable.”
Furry Friends Farm founder Sabrina Yeap, who runs an AAT programme called Dr Dog (Malaysia chapter), said AAT helped relieve loneliness and encouraged people to open up.
“People who refuse to speak or those with physical disabilities will be more willing to touch a dog than respond to a person. This helps them to move their muscles and improve their verbal and co-ordination skills.”
She said there were some who were afraid of dogs, but the fear faded when they saw how their friends benefited from AAT.
Two mongrels from Dr Dog are visiting inmates at an old folk’s home and a youth rehabilitation centre.
The Lions Kuala Lumpur Bangsar is also into AAT.
Club president Dhyana Low said five members and their dogs made weekly visits to the Beautiful Gate Foundation for the Disabled for the residents to stroke and hug the dogs.
“It’s wonderful to see the residents open up to the dogs. It’s a feeling that money can’t buy.”

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