Today there are many therapy animals that are trained to visit nursing homes and hospitals to provide company and therapy for their patients, both children and adults. Animals are also being used to raise the self-esteem of children with special needs. Special programs, such as Riding for the Disabled and Dolphin-Child Therapy, have been developed to help children who are physically challenged or emotionally damaged.
None of this would be strange to anyone who has had a pet. Pets have been shown to lower stress, reduce blood pressure, provide friendship and support, alleviate depression and loneliness, and provide many other benefits.
Everyone is familiar with seeing-eye dogs that enable blind people to lead fulfilling lives, but few people know that seeing-eye dogs have been used for at least two millennia. A two-thousand-year-old wall painting from Herculaneum shows a blind man, with a dog on a lead, being offered food by a young woman.Although many woodcuts dating from the Middle Ages show blind people being led by dogs, there are no records of dogs being specifically trained for this purpose until the eighteenth century. A painting by Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin called The Blind Man of the Quinze-Vingts was hung in the Louvre, in Paris, in 1753. This painting, now lost, showed a patient of the Quinze-Vingts Hospital being led through the streets of Paris by a guide dog. Fortunately, an engraving of this painting still survives. This hospital was established to care for the blind, and trained guide dogs as part of their service.
Animals also help people recover from major traumatic events, such as the death of a partner. An interesting survey in Japan found that people over the age of sixty-five who had a pet visited a doctor 30 percent less often than people of the same age who did not have a pet.
The healing power of animals has been known for a long time. The ancient Greeks used dogs in their healing temples. Florence Nightingale (1820-1910) advocated the use of companion animals to help people regain their health. In 1792, William Tuke (1732-1822), an English philanthropist, started using animals to help improve the conditions, and mental well-being, of people suffering from mental illness. Since 1867, birds, cats, dogs, and horses have been used to help epileptics in Germany.
In 1975, R. A. Mugford and J. G. M'Comisky, two researchers in the United Kingdom, conducted an interesting experiment with twenty-four pensioners. Twelve of them were given a caged bird, while the others received a potted plant. Three months later, the people who had been given a bird had a more positive outlook on life and abetter attitude towards others than the people who had been given a plant. In 1980, a study of people with heart disease found that pet owners were much more likely to be alive one year later than people without a pet.
If you have a pet, you'll know exactly how healing and supportive they can be. Pets listen empathically, and respond to your body language and thoughts. Their healing energy takes away pain and hurt. Stroking and cuddling your pet while telling him or her your concerns increases the beneficial effects. If you need healing of any sort, spend quality time with your pet, and allow him or her to give you all the healing energy you require.
Pet owners frequently dream about their pets. It's highly likely that your pet dreams about you, too. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) discovered that animals experience lengthy and complex dreams that relate to their everyday lives.
Matthew Wilson, an associate professor of brain and cognitive sciences at MIT's Picower Institute for Learning and Memory, and graduate student Kenway Louie taught trained rats to run around a circular track to receive a food reward. The rats' brain activity was monitored while they were running and while they were asleep. The researchers discovered that the rats' brains created a unique pattern of neurons in the area of the brain related to memory.
They then examined more than forty REM (rapid eye movement) episodes while the animals were sleeping. Most dreams occur, in both animals and humans, in the REM state. In about half of the REM episodes that were monitored, the rats duplicated the same brain activity that they had exhibited while running around the track. In fact, the similarities were so close that the researchers were able to determine exactly where on the track the rat was in the dream, and if he or she was running or standing still.
Your pet can provide healing energy while you are asleep, as well as when you are awake. Even if you don't have a pet, you can still use the healing energies provided by the animal kingdom in your dreams. Before you go to sleep, think of a particular animal that symbolizes healing for you. It needs to be an animal you empathize with. Visualize the animal as clearly as you can. Tell yourself that you will experience, and remember, any dreams you may have during the night that involve the particular animal you have chosen. If you have a pet, you'll probably choose him or her. However, you can choose a completely different animal if you wish. If your pet is a goldfish, for instance, you might choose a cat or dog instead. When you wake up in the morning, lie quietly for a minute or two without moving, and see what dreams come back to you. If you are fortunate, you'll remember a dream that involved your chosen animal. This is unlikely to occur the first time you try it, and most people need to keep visualizing the animal for about a week before the animal appears in their dreams. It is, of course, possible that the animal appeared in dreams you did not recall, but because you specifically asked for a particular animal and also asked to remember the dream, you are likely to remember it when it occurs.
As well as animals you know, or can visualize, you can also experience healing totem animals and animal spirits in your dreams. You can ask them to visit you in your dreams whenever necessary. Most of the time, they'll appear in your dreams before you've asked them, as your subconscious mind already knows exactly what you need.