Not just for patients: Nurses and the healing power of pet therapy

Dogs Know When You're Upset and Want to Help, Study Says

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Organizations like Happy Tails Pet Therapy regularly bring puppy pals into places where nurses work in the Atlanta area. Their territory includes hospitals like Northside, hospices and assisted living centers, where patients and clients get a sensory boost and some animal-assisted therapy.

But Atlanta-based therapist Kaylee Simon, LMSW, has an added idea. As a licensed therapist, Simon provides therapy for anxiety, depression, trauma, stress, life transitions, families, relationships, emotional and behavioral disorders, abuse, grief and loss, and more. She works with children, adolescents and adults.

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"I am 100 percent behind them having a day for nurses to be visited by the dogs," she says. "Pet therapy like that is very beneficial for everyone."

Simon treats anxiety, trauma, stress and life transitions and has a few nurses as therapy clients. She says pets can offer much-needed stress relief. "It's proven that when you're petting a dog or cat you release serotonin," she says. "Also, your heart rate decreases and so does your anxiety, just from the motion and the actual petting of the dog."

Kaylee Simon, LMSW, has had her dog Riley trained as a therapy dog.
Kaylee Simon, LMSW, has had her dog Riley trained as a therapy dog.

Another boost from interacting with pets: They make you smile! They also make people you encounter while your pet is with you smile, which is therapeutic for the owner.

Simon "employs" her Maltipoo (Maltese + Poddle) Riley at her practice to pet and play with clients, and says that just the same way Riley calms people during sessions, "any animal can be a source of emotional support."

Dogs, of course, are more reliably responsive to an owner's emotions. "They can also read people better than cats," Simon says. "But cats are also comforting to pet and cuddle as long as they're willing to have that."

Simon emphasizes that owning a pet is not the only way to reap the powers of pet therapy. She recommends cat cafes and groups that allow you to help socialize rescue animals.

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