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Pet Therapy
Healing, Recovery and Love
By Pawprints and Purrs, Inc

"All over the world, major universities researching the therapeutic value of pets in our
society and the number of hospitals, nursing homes, prisons and mental institutions are
employing full-time pet therapists." ~ Betty White, American Actress, Animal Activist,
and Author of Pet Love

Researchers are finding that pets truly have the power to heal their owners, especially the
elderly. The most serious disease for older people is not cancer or heart disease, but

Too often, people who live alone or are suddenly widowed die of broken hearts. Love is
the most important medicine and pets are one of nature's best sources of affection. Pets
relax and calm. They take the human mind off loneliness, grief, pain, and fear. They
cause laughter and offer a sense of security and protection. They encourage exercise and
broaden the circle of one's acquaintances.

Patients in hospitals and nursing homes who have regular visits from pets - whether their
own or those brought in from various agencies - are more receptive to medical treatment
and nourishment. Animals give the patient the will to live and in nursing homes, the
medical staff is often surprised to see residents suddenly "become alive." Animals have a
calming effect on humans and benefit mental well-being, especially with children and the

In recent years, the experts have been relying on pet therapy as a valuable aid in reaching
out to the elderly, the infirm, and to ill or abused children through-out the country.
Therapy animals go to convalescent homes, hospitals, day care centers, juvenile halls,
and prisons. These animals are trained to be calm, gentle and well-mannered, especially
around rambunctious children. There are no breed requirements.

In fact, many therapy animals are mixed breeds. They come in all sizes and shapes. Cats
and small dogs are good because they can be lifted easily and fit even on the smallest
laps. A large dog makes a good companion for someone in a wheelchair, sitting patiently
and allowing the occupant to stroke his fur.

Most important is that the therapy cats and dogs have a calm, gentle personality and are
people-oriented. They must love attention and petting and not be shy. In addition, they
need basic obedience training and should be conditioned to sudden noises. They provide
an invaluable service to those who are lonely, abandoned, or ill; indeed, anyone who
needs the miraculous healing that can arise from a hug and a gentle touch.

Children, especially those who are abused or neglected, are able to communicate with
animals. A pet offers a safe place for a child with emotional problems. They give
unconditional love, providing a security blanket.

A dog, cat, ferret or parrot can be the bond that glues a family together when upheaval,
such as moving, death or divorce, occurs. Often, an animal can reach a child beyond an
adult's touch.

Mary Kelly, a child-life specialist at Children's Hospital in Oakland, CA (USA),

coordinates pet therapy sessions twice a month. She keeps a camera on hand to record the
incredible connections that occur. "We've had very dramatic visits where a dog brought a
child who has not spoken for months out of depression," she states. "Most kids can relate
to animals, so seeing and touching the pets brings them a sense of normalcy."

Professionals in the field of pet-assisted therapy find that in addition to cats and dogs,
fish, pot-bellied pigs, birds, reptiles, rabbits, guinea pigs, goats, horses and llamas are
also valuable healers. They have also found pets lower blood pressure and stress levels,
give the patient a reason to interact, offer a chance to exercise and a sense of security
and/or intimacy, allow communication, and offer continuity in life.

The innocence of animals and their ability to love makes animals special. Human beings
want to be part of their world, to connect with them in a mysterious and powerful way
that will strengthen and nurture both humans and animals.

Allen Schoen, DVM says "In order to bond with animals, we have to step outside
ourselves and learn to communicate on their terms." During his years as a veterinarian,
Dr. Schoen tells how love for our pets can literally save lives and how their love for us
can be transforming in his book Love, Miracles and Animal Healing.

That animals feel our pain, our joy, and our stress should come as no surprise for anyone
who has a pet. Whether we recognize it or not, the emotional as well as the physical
environment we humans create has a direct impact on the way our pets behave. Dr.
Schoen explains that "...we emit energetic signals related to our deepest feelings that are
picked up by those around us - especially our pets." The emotional benefits from animals
are difficult to measure, meaning that pets help humans without anyone knowing exactly
why. What experts know, however, is that animals allow humans to focus, even for a
short period of time, on something other than themselves.

Animals, especially small ones, have shown promise for many conditions, both social and

Pets help Alzheimer's patients by bringing them back to the present. Specially trained
pups can also help alert others that an Alzheimer's patient has wandered into harm's way.
"Pets can provide a measure of safety to people with the disease," says Thomas Kirk, a
vice president of a chapter of the Alzheimer's Association.

Children who suffer from attention deficit disorder (ADD) are able to focus on a pet,
which helps them learn to concentrate.

Mentally ill patients, or those with emotional problems, share a common bond when a cat
or dog enters the room. Instead of reacting negatively to one another, it boosts morale and
fosters a positive environment.

Pets are an antidote to depression. Life in a care facility can be boring. A visit from a
therapy cat or dog breaks the daily routine and stimulates interest in the world outside.

Pets provide social interaction. In a health care facility, people come out of their rooms to
socialize with the animals and with each other.

Everyone has the need to touch. Many humans are uncomfortable hugging or touching
strangers, even those close to them. Some people are alone and have no hands to hold, no
bodies to hug. But rubbing the fur of a cat or dog can provide a stimulation that is sorely
lacking. The nonverbal connection is invaluable in the healing process.

Pets are a source of expectation, hope and communication. Looking forward to a social
call or getting home after time away gives that spark of anticipation all humans need to
help feel alive. Pets can help start a conversation, and help one who is struggling against
unusual difficulties in learning to speak for the first time or after a speech impairment
such as a stroke.
Animals also provide healing outside domestic settings: dolphin and pet-assisted therapy,
horseback riding, farm animal and wildlife interaction, and marine life activity.

The incredible abilities of pets are astounding:

Dogs sniff out deadly land mines in Bosnia and earthquakes worldwide, searching for
victims. After the bombing in Oklahoma City, OK (USA), they crawled through twisted
metal and broken glass in 12 hour shifts, searching for survivors. K-9 Corps dogs work
with police and military personnel to uncover drugs, bombs and criminals. At airports,
specially trained beagles scramble through cargo and baggage for illegal contraband,
including foreign viruses. They aid the blind and assist the deaf and disabled. They have
been used to detect cancerous lesions, long before they look suspicious. And we must
never forget the combat dogs who served our countries, War Dogs - Dogs in Combat.

Cats are certainly the most curious and also the most psychic of pets. Throughout the
ages, they have predicted earthquakes and other natural disasters, found missing persons
and alerted their owners to danger. They can sense when a person needs help. Betty
White relates the story of Handsome, a Persian cat who was taken to a nursing home and
met Marie, a lonely senior with no friends and no family. She remained curled in a fetal
position with no interest in living. She had sores on her legs from constant scratching.
After Handsome became Marie's roommate, whenever she tried to scratch herself, he
would play with her hands or otherwise distract her. Within a month the sores had healed.
But even more incredible, she was so fascinated with the cat that she asked the staff about
his care. Before long, she was inviting other residents to come visit with her pet.

Even more dramatic is the story of Nina Sweeney from Lawrence, MA (USA). Her seven
cats and dog saved her life one fateful night in January. The temperature was bitterly cold
when she went to bed. During the night Nina was struck with a paralyzing illness that left
her helpless. Unable to leave her bed, she listened as the fire in her stove sputtered and
died. Outside, the thermometer registered below zero and the numbing chill seeped into
the house. Nina prayed someone would find her as she shivered beneath her blankets.
Two days passed before neighbors investigated. When they reached her, they found Nina
alive and warm, one cat on either side of her, another draped like a fur on her neck. One
was nestled on her chest and another under her arm. Beneath the covers were two other
cats. Her dog lay across her stomach. Her pets had kept Nina from freezing to death.

Reference Sources:
1. Hero Cats: True Stories of Daring Feline Deeds, Eric Swanson, 1998
2. Hero Dogs: 100 True Stories of Daring Deeds, Peter C. Jones, 1997
3. Love, Miracles, and Animal Healing, Allen M. Schoen, DVM, 1996

The Life and Times of 7 Year Old Princess Sugar Pie as
a Famous Registered Therapy Cat and Show Cat,
rescued by owner/trainer Jim Barbee when she was a
feral kitten.

Hello and welcome to my cat's web page. My name is Jim Barbee and Princess Sugar Pie
is a very special cat of mine. Besides being her owner, I am also her trainer too. You see,
dogs are not the only animals that are "Therapy Animals". Four year old Princess Sugar
Pie is a certified therapy cat that I registered through the "Service Animal Registry of
America" or SARA. I rescued her when she was a feral kitten living underneath my
condominium back in 2004. Princess Sugar Pie started becoming famous right after the
Mobile Press-Register featured a three page article about her during the 2007 Mardi Gras
celebration. Princess Sugar Pie has become Mobile Area's own Mardi Gras Cat. She just
turned 5 years old in June of 2008. I hope that she and I will be able to spend a long
productive life together. I am so proud of all her accomplishments.

In the beginning, she wouldn't even let me get close enough to pet her but I eventually
won her confidence. After some intensive training, I saw that she would make a
wonderful therapy animal. During her training, I would take her to crowded and noisy
places so that she would get accustomed to the sights and sounds. I would reward her
with treats when she behaved well.

After two years of training, I certified her as a therapy animal and now she is able to help
other people to relax and feel at ease. I still find it amazing that she was a feral cat and
now she has accomplished all of this.

"Princess Sugar Pie" is sometimes called "Sugar Pie" or just "Sugar" for short, even-
though she is still an actual Princess. She really enjoys grooming herself while sitting on
the vanity in front of the mirror in the bathroom. She also enjoys having her nails and hair
trimmed before she takes her bath and has no problems with a blow dryer being used to
dry her hair either. Shouldn't a Princess be pampered while taking great pains to look her

Since Princess Sugar Pie is a certified and registered therapy animal, I am now able to
take her to any nursing home or hospital in the country, if I need to. Besides our going to
nursing homes and hospitals, I have also taken her to schools in order to educate children
about Therapy Animals and how Princess Sugar Pie became one. Whenever I go out and
take Sugar Pie with me, I always clamp her picture ID on her harness or costume, even if
we just run errands. I also take Sugar Pie to my home church in Mobile when I'm down at
my condo in Daphne. She has been blessed and christened at least three times in the past
couple of years. I guess that makes Sugar Pie a "Holy Cat". People always ask me about
Sugar Pie all the time because they are not used to seeing a therapy cat, let alone a cat
dressed up in a hat or costume. Therapy animals not only lower people's blood pressure
when they hold and pet the animal, the activity also reduces their stress level too, which
is another added benefit.

Marvelous Marvin: Remembering a National Pet

Therapy Dog of the Year
By Margo Ann Sullivan

From Shelter Dog to Celebrated Pet Therapy Dog

Megan Levasseur with Marvin

Riverside, R.I. – His human friends will never forget “Marvelous Marvin,” the gentle
black Lab with a lame leg and stout faith in mankind, who touched countless hearts with
his story about second chances.

Marvin arrived at the Rhode Island SPCA as one of the dogs nobody wanted, according
to Dr. E.J. Finocchio, SPCA president. “He came close to being euthanized.” Luckily,
Finocchio himself adopted Marvin on Thanksgiving Day 2002 and gave him a mission.
Marvin became the SPCA’s mascot and unofficial ambassador for pets waiting in shelters
for someone to love.

With Finocchio’s coaching, Marvin went on to become a registered Delta Society therapy
dog and was named National Pet Therapy Dog of the Year, appearing on television and
even meeting Hillary Clinton. Throughout his career, Marvin visited more than 100
schools, libraries, hospitals and nursing homes.

At Hasbro Children’s Hospital in Providence, R.I., Marvin visited every month and did
tricks for the children, said Kelsey Hobbs, child life specialist. “He put a smile on their
faces,” she remembers, by playing catch or fetch with a Teddy Bear or a ball.

But Marvin and Finocchio also brought a serious message about not trusting strangers.
“Dr. Finocchio would put a treat on top of Marvin’s paw and say, ‘Don’t eat it until I say
it’s ok,’” Hobbs recalls. Then the children would try to convince Marvin to eat the treat,
but Marvin wouldn’t touch it until Dr. Finocchio spoke—to show them Marvin wouldn’t
do what strangers told him, and they shouldn’t, either.

And once a month for the last five years, Marvin visited sick and disabled residents at
Providence, R.I.’s Bannister House, serving those with medical needs. According to
Linda Muller, Bannister House’s activities director, Marvin’s presence brought back “a
flood of memories” for many residents.

“You never know who it’s going to touch,” Muller said. Marvin even helped an
Alzheimer’s patient who had lost speech to talk again. “She reached out her hand to
Marvin and said, ‘Dog.’” The woman had not spoken in years.

Last month, some of the Bannister House residents returned the favor, paying a call to the
SPCA to see Marvin when he was becoming too sick to travel. “They knew he was not
going to be able to visit,” Muller said.

A Special Bond

“He was more than a dog,” said Lisa Levasseur, SPCA staff member. Marvin had a way
that brought hurt people “out of their shells,” she said.

After Levasseur’s daughter, Megan, was diagnosed with autism, doctors said Megan
would never speak. They tried horseback riding and other therapy, but nothing worked.

Then Marvin stepped up.

One day, Levasseur returned from walking the dogs and found Marvin lying on the floor
and Megan, then 4, sitting up against him.

“Dog’s downstairs,” Megan said, to her mother’s amazement. That was her first sentence,
Levasseur said. Megan, 13 today, now attends middle school in a regular education class
with support from a special education plan. “We’ve grown so much to love this dog,”
Levasseur said.

Yet Marvin was left at the shelter twice before Finocchio adopted him. The original
owner surrendered Marvin because he could no longer care for a dog, then the second
owner rejected him because he was lame—walking on three legs because of a previous
car accident.

“He said the lame leg wouldn’t be a problem, but then he changed his mind,” Levasseur
recalls. After two owners had left him at the shelter, Marvin “had two strikes against
him,” Finocchio said. “But he never gave up hope.”

After adopting him, Finocchio took Marvin home into a household filled with 16 people,
where he fit right in. “It was like he had been there 10 years,” Finocchio said. His wife
Marie and Marvin became instant best friends.

Saying Goodbye

Everyone hoped Marvin would go on as SPCA mascot for many years. But last March,
doctors found a tumor on his spleen. At first the surgery seemed a success, but last fall,
the cancer returned. Finocchio vowed he would not let Marvin suffer. “I’ll know when
it’s time to let go,” he said, “when he doesn’t chase his tennis ball, when he doesn’t want
to roll in the snow.”

Even a few weeks ago, Marvin didn’t let cancer interfere with greeting people and pets.
Trotting beside his owner, the dog waited to be introduced to a visitor to the SPCA, and
then offered a gentle lick on the hand. When the time seemed right, Marvin disappeared
briefly. He returned with a ball in his mouth.

As long as Marvin still wanted to play, Finocchio hoped he could keep the dog going. But
by mid-January, Marvin had stopped eating for a day and a half. His dog was struggling,
Finocchio said.

“When the dog that protected you and watched over you for seven years no longer wakes
you up—and you have to wake him up—things have changed,” he reflected. On Jan. 15,

Finocchio decided it was time to let Marvin say goodbye. The 10-year-old dog died in his
family’s arms.

“We had a wonderful life,” Finocchio said.

Another dog will continue Marvin’s good deeds, visit seniors in nursing homes and do
tricks for children in the hospital. But there’ll never be another Marvin.

“Everybody loves their dog,” Finocchio reflects, “but he was more than a dog to me.”

Shelter Dogs To Dream Dogs – Successstory

Happily Ever After

I adopted Pippi, my Sheltie/Keeshond mix, from Cate last June when she was
12 months old. My previous dog, which was trained as a therapy dog, had
died. I was doing a lot of therapy work and people were asking me when I

would have another dog. So, I decided to adopt a mature dog instead of
raising another puppy. A friend referred me to Cate and I will be forever

Pippi had been at Cate's for two weeks and she was ready to go. Cate told
me that this dog would be a great therapy dog and she was 100% right! We
trained with Cate for July and August. The first week in September, Pippi and
I passed the TDI test and have been doing all types of therapy work ever
since. She is equally at ease with adults, children, people with disabilities and
other animals. She has fans everywhere we go, Home Depot, Dixieline,
Petco, and in all departments of Scripps Mercy Hospital, San Diego County
Psychiatric Hospital and Country Villa Healthcare where we do therapy work.
We also do reading tutoring with students at Northmont School in La Mesa.

It is a gratifying and interesting experience to adopt an adult dog, and we

are still learning things about each other. Pippi is a devoted pet, a kind and
compassionate therapy dog and a great watch dog. She is very cute, too,
which is part of her charm.

Cate is a wonderful judge of people and dogs and a natural matchmaker! She
is also a superior trainer. Her entire family helped me prepare Pippi for
testing and we had a great time. I have recommended her to several friends
and I recommend her to you too! If you are looking for a canine companion,
call Cate!

Cate's Note: This dog had been red-listed by the shelter, which
means that she was scheduled to be put down due to
behavioral issues. This just goes to show that ALL dogs are
worth saving!!