Healing with hugs: pets lend a helping paw

Pets can be great playmates and lots of fun, but now more than ever, they are truly a beloved member of the family, bringing joy and unconditional companionship to our lives. And just as moms and dads provide the love, support and endless hugs we need to get through any situation, so can our pets. Surprised? Well don’t be. Our furry friends may possess the power to help heal with pet hugs.
Across the country, thousands of special therapy pets bring smiles each and everyday to those in need by simply offering them a pet hug. Research shows that human interaction with pets can provide life-enhancing physical and emotional benefits. In fact, bringing pets into a nursing home or hospital can help boost people’s moods, enhance social interaction and help lower blood pressure.
In an effort to promote the important role pets play in people’s lives, the Animal Rescue Foundation (ARF) recently established the Pet Hug Fund, which provides support to animal therapy teams nationwide.
“It is remarkable to see firsthand the healing power animals possess,” says Bianca La Russa of Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation’s Pet Hug Fund. “We are focused on creating national programs like the ARF Pet Hug Fund to further the pet therapy mission and help support local efforts.”

Benefits of Pet Hugs
Pet therapy can help people dealing with a range of life issues. Whether it’s an abused child, a patient overcoming surgery or an elderly individual looking for companionship, pets have tremendous healing powers that, in some cases, cannot be matched by human interaction.
In a UCLA study, researchers examined how patients responded to visits from a human and dog volunteer team, a human volunteer only or no visit at all. The patients receiving visits from the dog team showed the most positive signs of improvement as they had decreased anxiety scores and stress levels. The study concluded that even short-term exposure to dogs has physical and mental benefits on patients who want to participate.
The UCLA research is one of many documented studies illustrating the power of pet hugs. Here are some other examples of the benefits of pet therapy:
—Pets decrease feeling of loneliness and isolation.
—In a study of friendship bonds between elderly people and their animals, 78 percent of men and 67 percent of females said that their dogs were their only friends.
—In a study of children experiencing divorce, 85 percent described their dogs as a companion to whom they could tell their problems, anger and rage.
How You Can Help Spread Pet Hugs
In three years, ARF Therapy Animal teams have made 1,000 visits and touched the lives of 100,000 people in need. Through the establishment of the ARF Pet Hug Fund, additional therapy teams will receive resources they need to help reach out to thousands of others across the country.

Powerful Pet Tails
Many of the ARF Pet Hug Fund therapy pets experienced their own fair share of hardships before getting the opportunity to touch thousands of lives with pet hugs. Several were rescued from shelters, and due to their experiences, they now give back to others in need through the simple gesture of a warm embrace.
For example, Ducati is a gentle and curious cat, who counts children and seniors among his biggest fans. He was surrendered to the county shelter without his mother when he was only two weeks old and at the time, the local rescue group did not have space to care for him. Luckily, an ARF employee visited the shelter one day and knew she had to adopt this tiny kitten, so she could give him the love and care he desperately needed. Now Ducati is an official member of the ARF therapy team and positively impacts hundreds of children at the numerous schools he visits each year.
Another real-life rescue pet, Beemer, was a tattered Schnauzer mix adopted from a public shelter with one hour left to live. After receiving some TLC and proper training, Beemer started doing therapy work and for more than eight years now, he has provided tens of thousands of pet hugs to at-risk kids and assisted living residents.
To learn more about pet therapy or to find out how you can help further the mission of spreading pet hugs around the country, visit purinapetlover.com.

All materials courtesy of: Nestlé

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