National Therapy Animal Day: Celebrating Our Fuzzy Friends
April 30th is national therapy animal day, and therapy animals play a big part in the recovery process here at A Healing Place – The Estates. With two doggies and four ponies, our patients get to enjoy the company and companionship of our furry friends. When most people come to visit our facility, we always invite guests to meet our chief therapist, Becka. Becka is a 9 year mixed lab who has been working alongside Dr. Grinstead her entire life.
Meet the “Chief Therapist”
Dr. Grinstead, the Chief Clinical Officer and developer of the Addiction Free Pain Management® System, lives with chronic pain himself. Being a dog lover and understanding the role animals play in therapy, he was eager to get an emotional support pup. Dr. Grinstead and his wife Ellen adopted Becka when she was 9 months old. He immediately saw her perceptive awareness and intervention when he was experiencing his own pain flair ups. I asked him how Becka responds when his chronic pain symptoms are present.
“When I’m struggling with pain or anxiety, Becka notices. She comes right up and sits in front of me. She’ll lay her snout on my leg and just look up at me. She’ll try to distract me by asking for attention to play ball or go for a walk. Sometimes I’ll get down on the floor with her – up close and personal. Cuddling with Becka is very soothing for me.”
Therapy Animal Benefits
For people living with chronic pain, dogs can offer unwavering support. They are always there to look you in the eyes and let you know you are not alone. They’ll listen to your frustrations, fears, and doubts without judgments, and will do their best to get you out of a funk! Several studies have shown that interaction with dogs cause an increase in oxytocin, a chemical that helps reduce stress and anxiety. Sy Montgomery with the Boston Globe reported these benefits in detail:
“Oxytocin causes a cascade of physiological changes. It can slow heart rate and breathing, quiet blood pressure and inhibit the production of stress hormones, creating a profound sense of calm, comfort, and focus.”
We also asked Dr. Grinstead in what ways Becka supports the patients at our residential treatment program.
“When Becka walks into the room, everybody immediately calls her over and wants to pet her. One patient insists on giving her ice chips because I won’t let them feed her human food as she is raw fed. Another patient takes Becka on walks to help her reduce anxiety and get some exercise. One patient was very phobic about Dogs at first and not comfortable when Becka was in the room. The first thing she asks now is ‘Where’s Becka?’ Not only that, she will pet Becka and is comfortable with her lying at her feet.”
Becka not only helped this patient overcome their fear of dogs, but also did her job in proving how beneficial an emotional support dog can be! That very same patient will be graduated our program last week, and looks forward to connecting with Pets for Vets to learn more about getting her own dog.
Our Hoofed Helpers
Horses also play a pivotal and much more specific role here at A Healing Place – The Estates. We have two full size horses, Koa and Gracey, as well as two miniatures, Magic and Sassy. Every week our Equine Specialist, Corey Cardinas, in collaboration with our Clinical Team, offers our residential patients an experiential session with these beautiful animals. In a recent Treatment Method Profile we asked Corey “How can working with horses be therapeutic for someone suffering with chronic pain?”
“Horses live very much in the present moment and have an enormous effect on us when we spend time with them. I have seen Patients get very present and drop into their bodies during these sessions; they tend to feel calmer and become more receptive. In the bigger picture, these sessions really help Patients get clearer on how they personally influence their own suffering.”
When our patients interact with the horses, they are often working through difficult experiences and emotional pain. It is often said that horses can see through to the soul, and are very perceptive of our emotions. During a session, we will use props to represent our feelings or experiences, and then build healthy coping skills and deeper levels of understanding with Corey and the horses.
Meet the Pets!
You do not need a certified therapy dog to get emotional support from a pet. Animals offer love and support, and are always there to lend an ear in a time of need. It warms our hearts seeing the connections forged between our patients and pets, and we want to see who offers emotional support to you! Post a picture of your furry (or perhaps scaly?) friend to our Facebook page, and let us know how they offer you support!