Various mental health professionals and organizations use animal therapy in their practices. The animals soothe and calm hospital patients, provide emotional support, and even help in treating addictions. Therapy animals have included dogs, cats, pigs, horses, ducks, and other mammals and birds.
What can animals do to bring emotional comfort and stress relief to humans? Scientists are conducting clinical research to give objective answers to that question. In the meantime, we all know of subjective experiences where animals have given mental and emotional help to humans. There are also some cases where things did not work out so well, as when a petting zoo brought a bear cub to a university campus to soothe students during final exams. Unfortunately, the bear bit fourteen students, resulting in a rabies scare.
Scientists never want to rely on anecdotal evidence. Instead, they want to know if animal therapy works and why. Part of the importance of the scientific studies is that the United States Department of Veterans Affairs has refused to cover the cost of service dogs for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. Insurance companies struggle with similar questions concerning doctor-prescribed service animals for patients with mental health issues.
While scientists struggle to discover the facts regarding animal therapy, many people claim to have received comfort, stress relief, and companionship from their pets. Some scientists have suggested what they call the biophilia hypothesis. According to that hypothesis, the desire to affiliate with animals results from our common evolution from lower life forms.
We suggest another explanation for the fact that humans relate so well to animals. We believe that the Creator gave us animals, especially mammals and birds, to be our companions and helpers. We relate to them, we learn from them, and they serve us in many ways. The truth is that humans have survived through the ages with help from mammals and birds. They are a gift from God.
— Roland Earnst © 2021