As she makes her way through the hospital wards, Billie-Jean keeps up an impressive pace. She has to if she is going to see all the patients who are waiting for her. Wearing her official uniform, she looks neat and trim, and despite how busy she is, she always has time to stop if someone wants to say hello or slip her a Bonio. You see, Billie-Jean isn't a ward sister doing the rounds or a doctor bringing vital medicine, she's an Irish terrier. But despite the fact she's a canine, not human, carer, her medical value is second-to-none because she is a Pets As Therapy dog.
Pets As Therapy is a charity that takes pet dogs and cats to hospitals, hospices, residential care homes, day centres and special-needs schools. It was formed in 1983, explains chief executive Maureen Hennis, by a group of pet owners who were convinced that their animals could help other people. "At that time, people were moving into residential accommodation and nursing homes, and they had to give up their own pets," she says. "This wasn't only making them sad and depressed, sometimes it was actually making them ill."
The importance of regular contact with domestic animals has been highlighted by recent research conducted by the University of Minnesota. According to the study, having a cat around the house can cut the risk of having a heart attack or a stroke by almost half. After studying nearly 4,500 adults aged between 30 and 75 for 10 years, it was found that cat owners had a 40 per cent lower risk of suffering a fatal heart attack.
"For years we have known that psychological stress and anxiety are related to cardiovascular events, particularly heart attacks," says Dr Adnan Qureshi, executive director of the Minnesota Stroke Institute at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. According to Qureshi, the research shows that "essentially there is a benefit in relieving those inciting factors from pets". And in a study published last year, Dr Deborah Wells of Queen's University Belfast found that dog owners tend to suffer less from ill health, have lower cholesterol, and lower blood pressure.
"It is possible that dogs can directly promote our well-being by buffering us from stress," says Dr Wells.
Source - Independent