Healing Paws: Enhancing Lives Through Creature Comforts
We believe that there is no gift like the gift of companionship. Healing Paws was started in Jan 2014 with that in mind, aiming to provide comfort and warmth to persons in need via Animal-Assisted-Activities (AAA). Through the program, owners and their dogs volunteer their time in institutions such as children’s homes, elderly homes, and hospices, providing companionship, motivation, and recreation. Healing Paws strongly resonates with SOSD’s core values of love, compassion, and tolerance to all living beings, humans and animals alike. It is also a way for SOSD’s rescued dogs to say thank you, and give back, to the society which has given them a second chance in life.
What is AAA?
Animal-Assisted Activities, or AAA, is the use of animals – often dogs but sometimes other animals such as cats, to provide opportunities for motivation, education, or recreation to enhance quality of life of persons in need, through human-dog interactions. AAA is delivered in various environments by specially trained professionals, paraprofessionals, and volunteers in association with animals that meet specific criteria.
AAA sessions are usually casual, and include “meet and greet” activities that involve pets and their handlers visiting people in homes and institutions. The length and content of the visit is spontaneous and depends on the quality of the interaction between the patient and therapy animal. The sessions are also not tailored to a particular person or medical condition.
AAA differs from Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT, or Pet Therapy), which is a goal directed intervention. Here, AAT is an integral part of the treatment process, delivered by trained professionals to promote improvement in human physical, social, emotional, or cognitive function. AAT, unlike AAA follows a structured program and is tailored to a patient. The process is documented and evaluated.
Benefits of AAA
The use of animals in the promotion or improvement of health is has long been documented, and supported by recent research.
Interactions with animals can provide emotional and physical health benefits for diverse human population, including the elderly, children, physically disabled, deaf, blind, emotionally or physically ill patients. Animals have also been found to serve as a source of diversion during anxiety-provoking procedures such as physical examinations and invasive procedures. With proper training and guidance, animals can be taught to reinforce rehabilitative behaviors in clients, such as throwing a ball, walking or even perform simple tricks that involve the participation of the clients. For clients who are experiencing pain and undergoing medical treatments, the presence of the therapy animals can be soothing, providing a relief from anxiety, fear and loneliness. Studies have shown than the human animal interaction can help to reduce stress, with a simultaneous decrease in blood pressure and cortisol (a stress hormone) levels. The AAA sessions would help to improve their overall quality of life.
Animals are wonderful catalysts for social interaction. Studies have shown that when dogs and cats come to visit a care facility, there is more laughter and interaction among residents than during any other “therapy” or entertainment time. There is increased socialization between residents and between residents and staff. In addition, animals provide a safe outlet for residents to obtain physical touch. These in turn helps to decrease loneliness in people who stay in residential facilities. Several journals have described the use of therapy dogs with patients with dissociative disorders. Benefits include the dog’s calming influence, ability to alert the handler early to patients’ distress, and facilitation of communication and interaction. Anecdotally, psychiatric patients who are withdrawn and nonresponsive have been described as responding positively to AAA sessions. Although animals have typically been well-received on psychiatric services, much of the data attesting to their benefits has been anecdotal. There have been journals reporting the therapeutic benefits of a therapy dog for schizophrenia patients, claiming that caring, human-canine relationships have helped patients substantially improve their condition.
It has also been established that children can receive positive benefits from AAA in class setting. Children are found to be more engaged with animals rather than a human being because animals seem non-judgemental to them. They are perceived as comforting, helping to raise their self-esteem and making it easier for the children to express themselves.
Healing Paws AAA Sessions
Healing Paws sessions are conducted in several institutions. We are very grateful to be given the chance to start working on monthly sessions with Asissi Hospice last year. Since then, Healing Paws has expanded to conduct sessions every week, in other elderly homes and children’s homes.
The sessions last and hour, where volunteers bring their dogs to meet, greet, and play with the residents of the homes. Depending on the needs of the institution, the sessions can either follow a spontaneous manner, or a more structured, 12 week program where residents progressively learn about the dogs, and learn to bond more with them.
To our delight, Healing Paws sessions are always filled with laughter, fun and joy: not only for the residents and staff, but also for our volunteers and their dogs. It is always meaningful, and everyone always ends up asking for more!
This year, as the program expands, we will be visiting even more homes and institutions. Healing Paws is entirely free of charge, and the homes we visit are not charged for the sessions.
How to join Healing Paws?
If your dog is sociable, loves interacting with new people, calm, gentle, and understands basic commands, consider joining us in this meaningful program!
As a Healing Paw volunteer, you and your dog will attend regular sessions at selected homes. It is a chance not only for your dog, but also yourself, so do something very meaningful for the less fortunate.
Before qualifying to be a AAA dog, your dog will need to undergo an assessment by Healing Paws advisor Maureen Huang, to make sure that he/she is suited for the program. The sessions are conducted on a bi-monthly basis to recruit new dogs into the program!
You can sign up for the program here.
About Pawsibility and Maureen
We are very honoured to have Ms Maureen Huang as Healing Paw’s advisor. Maureen is a certified Animal Assisted Therapist, and the Founder & Executive Director of Pawsibility, which specializes using AAT in conducting counselling and social emotional development programmes for children and youths. She has a keen interest in working with children and youths with special needs or disabilities.
Maureen obtained her Master of Social Work and Certificate in Animal Assisted Social Work from the University of Denver’s Graduate School of Social Work. Together with her Labrador Retriever, Telly, whom she met in Colarado, the dynamic duo has been working extensively with individuals, families and groups in the United States and in Singapore.
Learn more about Pawsibility on their website: www.pawsibilityaat.com
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