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Casper Critters

Pets are Powerful Therapy

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09/01/2009 - By Gayle M. Irwin

I spent nearly six weeks this summer with my parents who experienced major and frightening health issues. For almost two weeks, in the later part of that situation, my blind Springer Spaniel, Sage, stayed with us in their small home in Montana. Sage has experienced significant issues herself, from progressive blindness to being lost for 3 days to frequent urinary tract infections to, the latest, a pre-cancerous skin tumor. Through each significant challenge, Sage has exhibited immense courage and tenacity; her tail rarely stops wagging, and her sense of confidence and faith is inspiring!

While she stayed at my parents' house, she sat near each one of them, coaxing them in a silent way to reach out to her. They obliged, laying their hands on her to give her gentle pats and talking to her tenderly. Sage sat quietly, seeming to enjoy the attention and seeming to know they needed that respite of acceptance and devotion.

Dogs provide great health benefits to people. They can reduce stress, lower blood pressure, uplift our moods, and add years to our life. The simple fact that our pets accept us for who we are, they love us unconditionally and are devoted companions, they often wait by the door for our return, and pets (especially dogs) get us outdoors for fresh air and walks all of these things and more are healthy benefits to people, both emotionally and physically.

Therapy pets are used in hospitals and nursing homes around the country to help patients feel better. The Delta Society and other groups certify pets and their owners to take into such public places and studies show these animals provide great benefits to those whom they visit.

Unlike people with whom relationships can be complex, unpredictable, and stressful, animals are a great source of stability and companionship. They don't change, and their loyalty to their owners and their ability to rebound from tough situations can be inspiring. Pets are also a great source of comfort. The simple act of petting a dog can lower blood pressure and bring a sense of calm to one's spirit. Interacting with a cat in a playful manner can generate enjoyment and laughter. Even watching fish in a beautiful tank can bring about a sense of peace and an enjoyment of splendor through the colors of both the fish and the tank. And, don't we all need a bit more tranquility and stability in our lives?

I am thankful for the therapy Sage gives my family and I. Her dedication and devotion are beyond measure. She has taught me many things during her young life, including the value of friendship and loyalty and the strengths of perseverance and courage. My own special therapy pet whom I can share with others what a blessing!


Gayle Irwin is the proud "pet parent" of two adopted dogs as well as the author of two children's books. Sage's Big Adventure, published in 2007, is an inspirational story about her blind dog. Her follow-up book, Sage Learns to Share, is scheduled for publication later this year. Additionally, Gayle will have a story in the upcoming Chicken Soup for the Soul edition, Lessons Learned from the Dog, scheduled for release in late September. Gayle often visits schools and libraries, showcasing the amazing experience of owning a pet with special needs and teaching about pet ownership responsibility and overcoming obstacles. For more information about her writing and speaking, visit www.gaylemirwin.com.

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