Animal assisted therapy evolved through the belief and perception of early hunter groups that animals and spirits of the animals have supernatural powers. However, there is no documentation that this kind of therapy started in the early existence of humans.
The earliest recorded use of animal for therapy was performed in the 18th century in York Retreat, England where mentally ill patients were allowed to roam in a facility that contained a considerable number of small domestic animals. The animals serve as a socialization medium.
The practice was adapted by the Bethlem Hospital in England in 1860, providing animals in a ward to boost the morale of the hospital patients.
In 1919, the US military also encouraged the use of dogs as a therapeutic way of dealing with psychiatric patients at the St. Elizabeth’s hospital in Washington DC. Dr. Boris Levinson was the first one to use pet therapy which he accidentally discovered after leaving a dog with a difficult child. Upon returning, Dr. Levinson witnessed the communication of the child with the dog. Dr. Levinson also helped in promoting and documenting awareness for the value of human and pet bonding in 1961.
Animal assisted therapy in modern times is widely used in mental institutions, prisons, nursing homes and even domestically. The commonly used animals are dogs which are known as assistance dogs, assisting persons with different kinds of disabilities.
The assistance dogs have the capability to help patients walk outside of their homes or from the treatment facility to the outdoors. The dogs are also capable of assisting life activities.
The program starts by introducing the animal to the patient to initiate interaction between the individual and the pet. A bond is developed between the animal and the person which in turn can develop the motor skills of the patient. The greater the bond between the patient and the animal, the more therapists provide the patient with freedom to make choices and eventually interact with other humans as well. The human to human interaction is the culmination of an animal-assisted treatment program.
Horses for therapy
Horses can also be used as a therapeutic animal for persons with disabilities. Equine assisted therapy has been known to be effective in enhancing emotional, social, physical, cognitive, behavioral and education skills of people with special needs by providing a different kind of neuromuscular stimulation to its rider or through its gait which simulates the human walking action.
The ancient Greeks in the 17th century have been known to first use horses as a therapeutic medium to treat persons with neurological disorder, low morale and gout.
The therapeutic riding methods used in modern times was introduced by Liz Hartel from Denmark. She has paralyzed legs due to polio but made the sport of dressage as a way to win an Olympic gold medal.