Category Archives: animals as healers

Llamas and Alpacas as Therapy Animals? Why Not!

Rojo-HiResFloralBy Julia Williams

First there were therapy dogs. Then came therapy cats. More recently, the list of therapy animals has expanded to include horses, rabbits, guinea pigs, potbellied pigs…even llamas and alpacas! It seems people have finally begun to realize what I have known for most of my life – that virtually any animal has the capability to help our seniors, special needs children, hospital patients, rehabilitation facility residents and others who need cheering up.

When it comes to therapy animals, size doesn’t matter because animals are so pure of heart and willing to lend a paw (or a hoof) to spread cheer. Case in point: a big, shaggy-haired llama named Rojo and an equally hairy alpaca named Napoleon can bring on the smiles every bit as much as a fluffy little dog can!

Admittedly, llamas and alpacas might not be the first species that comes to mind when you think of therapy animals. However, the Mountain Peaks Therapy Llamas & Alpacas don’t let this stop them from visiting schools, hospitals, senior communities and rehab facilities throughout Portland, OR and Vancouver, WA. Offering friendship and a warm hug, these very special therapy animals help alleviate loneliness and reduce stress, and their presence brings a sense of normalcy to institutional settings.

rojoreading revMountain Peaks, a 501(c)3 non-profit corporation, offers therapy teams that have successfully completed the Animal-Assisted Therapy Certification process. Rojo was their first therapy animal; this unusually people-friendly llama received his Certification in 2007. Since then, the Mountain Peaks menagerie – Rojo, Smokey, Beni and Little Chap (llamas), and Napoleon, Jean-Pierre and Andre (alpacas), have completed more than 900 therapeutic visits. Mountain Peaks also provides theme-decorated llamas and alpacas for birthday parties, BBQs, weddings and other private and corporate events.

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Animals as Best Friends and Healers

By Julia Williams

If you believe what you read on the internet (sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t) the reference to dog as “man’s best friend” originated in an 1821 poem in The New-York Literary Journal. Regardless of where it came from, the saying has been quoted by countless dog lovers since. Of course, cat lovers say felines are just as worthy of the title. But why designate one or the other as humankind’s “best” friend? Dogs and cats each have their merits. And what about horses…or any other pet for that matter. Given the proven healing power of pets and all the many wonderful things they offer us, I think every animal deserves the title of best friend.

Anyone who’s ever shared a close bond with a pet has undoubtedly witnessed their natural healing abilities firsthand. Be it physical, mental or emotional healing, our pets can greatly improve our lives. There have been many reports in recent years of these remarkable healing pets — among them, dogs who can smell cancer before any medical diagnosis has been made; dogs who can alert their owners to seizures before they happen; horses who help handicapped riders develop balance, strength and confidence.

Cats and dogs are frequently used as “therapy animals” for seniors in nursing homes because they provide love and attention to those who might be feeling lonely, sad or forgotten. I know from experience that Purr Therapy can be very healing. Many prisons have dog training programs, which gives the inmates a sense of purpose and helps them deal with the depression, anxiety and tension caused by incarceration. Some prisons even have “cat care” programs to help the inmates learn to be compassionate towards all living things. It’s clear these prison programs provide a healing experience for the inmates.

The Many Health Benefits of Pets

These natural healers with wagging tails and furry coats enhance our lives in so many ways. The peaceful purring of a cat or the friendly nuzzle from a dog can calm our frazzled nerves. Stroking their soft fur is therapeutic for both body and soul; it can lower blood pressure and reduce stress, while helping us to open our hearts to love. Walking the dog and playing games with our pet provides beneficial exercise for our bodies; it also lifts our spirits and provides a respite from the stress and strain of life.

Pets can improve the quality of our life and positively influence us in so many ways. They inspire optimistic thoughts in those who are disheartened, and gently remind us how important it is to nurture not only ourselves, but others. In his book, The Healing Power of Pets, Dr. Marty Becker writes “Our beloved pets are life vitamins fortifying us against invisible threats: like seat belts cradling against life’s crashes; like alarm systems giving us a sense of security. Taken together, the healing power of pets is powerful medicine indeed.”

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Why Do We Love Our Pets?

By Julia Williams

Anyone who shares their life with a pet could fill a book with reasons why they love them. There’s nothing quite like the magical relationships we have with our pets, and each one is akin to the ‘no two are alike’ snowflake. The pet-human bond is such a beautiful thing, really, and I’m so grateful for my furry friends. Not a day goes by that I don’t stop to think about how blessed I am to have these precious souls in my life. What follows are just a few of the many wonderful things that being a pet parent offers.

We love our pets because they…
…Show us how to live in the moment.
…Inspire us to be better human beings.
…Help us to appreciate the simple pleasures.
… Do something funny or silly every day.
…See us at our worst and love us anyway.
…Are the best listeners in the whole world.
…Give us a reason to get up in the morning.
…Are great best friends and surrogate children.
…Teach us that it’s okay to ask for what we want.
…Relieve us of the need to own an alarm clock.
…Encourage our nurturing and protective sides.
…Turn a house into a home, just by being in it.
…Eat every CANIDAE meal with unbridled enthusiasm.
…Don’t care what we look like or how much money we have.
…Teach us about forgiveness, patience, devotion and trust.
…Do mysterious things that always keep us guessing.
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Can You Imagine Living in a World Without Animals?

By Julia Williams

I read a thought-provoking post recently on one of my favorite pet blogs, 24 Paws of Love. She wrote of having a day where things were going from bad to worse and just as she was about to “lose it,” the sight of two dogs instantly calmed her down. Mind you, these were not her own dogs, who were at home while she was out and about. She wrote, “I didn’t need to touch them or have any major connection with them, their presence was enough to settle those frayed emotions. All it takes sometimes is a glimpse of an animal, whether it be wild or domesticated, to feel back in touch with myself.” She went on to ask if others felt this same connection with the animal world, where just seeing them could elicit comfort and a sense of belonging.

Oh yes, I thought to myself…all the time. I understood this feeling completely, having had similar experiences time and again, for as long as I can remember. But what surprised me is that several others said they felt the same. I’d always thought it was somewhat uncommon to feel so innately and intensely connected to animals, even (and especially) those that are not your own. I now realize I may have been wrong about that. There are others like me, who would not really know how to live in a world without animals.

In the presence of animals, I feel more grounded and more comfortable than I do with people. I empathize more with animals than I do with humans, and feel as though they are somehow more like me than any human I know. Developing a deep bond with an animal is second nature to me, but to feel a meaningful connection with another human takes a lot of effort. It can be done, but it doesn’t happen nearly as naturally for me.

I’ve long held the belief that you are either born an animal lover, or not. Further, that this sense of connection to animals is not hereditary or a product of our environment. I really think it’s either there at birth, or it isn’t. Now, sometimes we can suppress this love just as we can also amplify it by our life choices. In other words, if our parents were not animal lovers and did not want a pet, it may take being out on our own before we realize that we don’t feel the same way. Conversely, we might know that we love animals and love having a pet, but it takes a certain pet coming into our lives to make us realize how vitally important they are to us and our sense of well-being.

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Why Do People Want Pets?

My childhood cat, Pepper

By Julia Williams

There are so many different reasons why people want pets. Like stars in the clear night sky, you can’t count them all, can’t even begin to try. Though many reasons seem to be the same on the surface, when you delve deeper into the “why” you begin to see a million shades of gray. Why do people like any one thing and not another? Why do I, for example, love caramel and the color pink but detest sauerkraut and khaki green? Because I’m me, a wholly unique human that brings a cornucopia of life experiences with me wherever I go. The things that have been written on the slate of our soul can’t be erased, and they change the fabric of our life in ways we can’t always comprehend.

I often wonder why my sister and I developed an intense love of cats despite being raised by a mom who was apathetic about all animals. This love of cats, of wanting to have one so much that to live without would be unthinkable and not worth the trouble it would take to breathe, is certainly not hereditary. In retrospect, I think I now want – no, need – cats in my life because at a very young age one saved my life. Not literally, as though he raced in and dragged me out of a burning building. That would be quite a feat for ANY cat!

No, my childhood cat Pepper was not capable of such a thing. But he was there to pick up the pieces of a young life shattered by unspeakable tragedy. He was there to convince me that despite the horrors of reality, I could still dream. He was there to keep me tethered to life even when everything around me was turning to dust. Little by little, day by day, Pepper helped me climb out of the rubble that had become my life. I’m convinced that my beloved Pepper’s “job” was one of healer, and he was very good at it. He, as well as every wonderful cat in my life since, helped to heal my wounds in a way that no human doctor ever could.

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The Healing Power of Purr Therapy

By Julia Williams

I have nothing against medical doctors. They’ve certainly played a role in my care since birth, and have even helped me a time or two. But there are times when I opt for a more unconventional mode of healing, one I’ve taken to calling “Purr Therapy” for lack of a better term. Sometimes, Purr Therapy is all I need to cure whatever ails me. Whether I suffer from a physical, mental or emotional malady, Purr Therapy can miraculously take me through the illness and into perfect health.

What is this strange healing power I call Purr Therapy? Well, it’s not some mumbo-jumbo snake-oil tactic, I assure you. Purr Therapy is simply believing in and allowing the natural healing power that my cats have. Though some might dismiss this notion as fallacy, the miraculous healing powers of pets have been well documented by doctors, veterinarians and animal lovers alike. And truly, just about everyone who has a close bond with their pet has experienced this natural healing ability firsthand. Purr Therapy – and its companion Wag Therapy – can be holistic complements to your wellbeing regime.

Purr Therapy allows my body’s own natural healing ability to shine, thereby creating health and wellness in every cell. Purr Therapy centers me, lifts my spirits and makes me feel glad to be alive. Who can feel sad or sick with a cat lying on their chest so close to their heart, purring like mad? Certainly not I. Who could allow pain to diminish their happiness when there is a pet nearby, so willing to give and receive love? Oh…not I, that is for sure. Purr Therapy has the miraculous ability to make everything seem all right, even when it isn’t. In fact, I think Purr Therapy can be a thousand – no, a million! – times more effective than any anti-depressant medication.

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