Therapy animals have been around for years but are quickly becoming more popular as a recognized tool for individuals with disabilities. Consequently, there are specific differences between a therapy animal, a service animal, or a working one. Unfortunately, without the proper training and identification, some service or therapy animals will have restrictions on where they can go with their handler.
There were over 500,000 therapy and service animals in the United States in 2021, with the need for more training as individuals age or face disabilities that require support. Statistically, 1 in 4 people will have a disability, making therapy animals necessary for many individuals to maintain their quality of life. As more animals receive training and certification, these resources become more mainstream in the community and are sought after by people with disabilities.
How Animals Can Help
Animals that go through specific training to provide support to individuals with disabilities can be of immense help. For example, one highly beneficial area where therapy animals can provide support is for disabled children attending school classes. In addition, personal mobility is the most significant disability that affects individuals worldwide, making service and therapy dogs a critical element to maintaining a routine and functionality with their peers.
Individuals with cerebral palsy can benefit immensely from a therapy animal that can turn on lights, retrieve items they drop, pull or push wheelchairs, and do other essential tasks. In addition, some breeds of dogs can help provide physical stability for children moving from a wheelchair to a bed or other daily activities. As you may already know, there are a number of different effective cerebral palsy therapies, and even though therapy animals are not officially on the list, many experts in the field support the idea 100%. Other specific duties animals offer for individuals include alerting someone of low blood sugar, an onset of seizures, or providing emotional support during anxiety attacks or high-stress situations.
Often children with cerebral palsy may have difficulties connecting to other students and maintaining friendships due to low self-esteem or lack of exposure to peers in the classroom. Therapy animals can help bring awareness to their community and help disabled children build relationship skills to form bonds with other children. A therapy animal will benefit the handler, but it can also help people in the classroom be more accepting and inclusive of individuals with disabilities.
The Necessary Training
Therapy animals require training and documentation for access to specific buildings with their handlers, such as a school setting. However, there will be no roadblocks to using a therapy animal when necessary by seeking out the proper certification. Of course, the animal in question should be able to fulfill the handler’s needs to get the most benefit. For example, a therapy cat may work well at home for companionship and to combat depression or isolation but is not the ideal type to take along in a school setting.
Specialized training for therapy animals can include socialization skills, following verbal commands and hand signals, and being non-reactive to situations. Additionally, a calm animal can provide emotional support to help a student with cerebral palsy integrate into the classroom better, providing a less-stressful experience, and bridging the gap in making personal connections with other students.