We are surrounded by service animals in today’s society – some more visible, well-known examples might include a bomb sniffing dog at the airport, or a guide dog helping a blind person cross the street. However, there are many different types of service animals that can serve a large variety of tasks for those with special medical needs. From therapy cats for the elderly, to dogs that can warn of you an oncoming seizure, these animals are even more incredible than we once thought.
No that was not a typo: they’re called “therapy cats”; and they aren’t alone – there are several types of therapy animals specially trained to be used for psychological support. Often, they will be brought into places like retirement homes, hospitals, college campuses, and even primary schools to comfort those who might be suffering from depression, loneliness, or anxiety. Therapy cats receive intensive training to be able to handle a lot of input at once, so they can be exceptionally friendly with people of all ages, which is difficult for regular cats, who can quickly become overstimulated. They are renowned for being able to help lower blood pressure, decrease anxiety, assist teens and children with special needs, inspire a sense of hope in depressed patients – in short, therapy cats are incredible!
As mentioned above, there are so many different animals that can be used for service. To name a few: birds, horses, domestic rats, and even miniature pigs! In the medical field, most service animals are used as emotional support animals or therapy animals. However, there are some animals can also be trained to open doors and turn lights on or off, which is helpful for people who are visually or physically impaired. There are even some animals – typically dogs – that can be trained to alert you or others of an oncoming fainting spell or seizure. Known as “response animals” or “alert animals”, they are trained to pick up by smell – yes, smell – when someone is about to have a seizure or a fainting spell. They will typically be able to alert a patient 15 to 30 minutes beforehand, giving them time to call for emergency help or lay down and prepare themselves for the oncoming difficulty. These service animals don’t simply stop at being an alert system – they assist their charges throughout this entire process, by elevating their legs, or giving them licks to keep them alert, even by helping them retrieve a phone! It takes some time for the dogs to be able to learn to develop this behavior for their owners – but it has proven effective before and these dogs have already saved countless lives.
In short, our species’ kinship with animals goes far, far deeper than simply having cute companions to talk to. Service animals are noble, loving, loyal animals, without whom we would have more seizures, more college dropouts, more injuries associated with disabilities, and infinitely more sadness in the world.