Can Any Animal Be a Therapy Animal?

VIDEO: Vet Battles to Keep 14 Therapeutic Ducks
ABCNews.com

An Ohio Army veteran made headlines this weekend when local officials told him to get rid of his therapy ducks.

Hold on. Therapy ducks?

Dogs once cornered the market on being therapy pets, but now bunnies, pigs – even llamas – are making their way into the laps and hearts of people with a range of conditions. But experts say some animals are more therapeutic than others.

“While we know that a wide variety of animals can be wonderful companions or pets, not every animal is suited to therapy work,” said Glen Miller, a spokesman for Pet Partners, a national nonprofit organization that trains and registers therapy animals.

Therapy pets can include “dogs, cats, rabbits, birds, guinea pigs, rats, miniature pigs, llamas, alpacas, horses, donkeys and mini-horses,” as long as they’re at least a year old and have lived with their owner for six months, according to Pet Partners. Though the organization registers “birds,” it does not register ducks, Miller said.

Pet Partners does not allow exotic or wild animals, either.

“We know many people have wonderful experiences with these animals as pets, but without research documenting their behavior over time, we cannot evaluate their predictability and reaction to stress,” the organization’s website reads.

Unlike service animals, therapy animals don’t help their owners perform tasks and are therefore not protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Though there are no national requirements to register therapy animals, most hospitals only allow ones that have been trained, aren’t easily stressed and are covered by an insurance policy.

Click through to read about some traditional and not-so-traditional bedside creatures.

PHOTO: In this Thursday, July 10, 2014 photo, Iraq war veteran Darin Welker, 36, holds one of his ducks at his home in West Lafayette, Ohio.
Coshocton Tribune, Trevor Jones/AP Photo
Ducks

Darin Welker’s village banned residents from keeping fowl in 2010, but the former member of the National Guard insists that his 14 ducks are therapy animals. They motivate him to get out of the house to take care of them, he said.

"They're quite a relaxing animal, and they help comfort me in different situations," Welker told the Conshohocken Tribune, holding one of the ducks like a baby. "[Watching them] keeps you entertained for hours at a time."

Welker served in Iraq in 2005 and returned home with a back injury that required surgery as well as post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, according to the Tribune. He’s had the ducks in his fenced-in yard since March and will argue his case for keeping them Wednesday or face a $150 fine.

Iraq Vet Cited for Owning 14 Therapeutic Pet Ducks

PHOTO: Therapy bunnies live in NYU Langone Medical Center, where they’re “on-call” to visit with adults and children at the hospital.
Courtesy NYU Langone Medical Center
Bunnies

Nutmeg and Clovis are the 4-and-a-half-year-old therapy bunnies that live on the 13th floor of NYU Langone Medical Center.

“We’ve seen patients that literally had no affect smile,” said Gwenn Fried, manager of horticultural therapy services at NYU Langone. “Their whole demeanor changes.”

Sometimes doctors recommend the rabbits, and sometimes, the patients ask to see them, Fried said.

Bunny Cuddles Just What the Doctor Ordered

PHOTO: Terminally ill hospice patient Helen Kress feeds Pisco, a 13-year-old therapy llama, during his visit to the Hospice of Saint John on Sept. 1, 2009 in Lakewood, Colo.
John Moore/Getty Images
Llamas

There’s nothing like a “kiss” – basically a soft, furry lip bump – from a 300-pound llama to brighten your mood.

Lori Gregory volunteers her llama, Rojo, through MTN Peaks Therapy Llamas and Alpacas, taking him to visit hospice patients and children who have mental and emotional problems.

“He has eyes the size of golf balls,” said Gregory, 57, of Vancouver, Washington. “People just stand there and look into their eyes. It’s pretty wonderful to be able to do that with a large animal that doesn’t ask anything.”

Though she can’t personally detect a change in the patients Rojo meets, she said nurses often tell her their most introverted patients become animated around the llamas.

Llamas ‘Kiss’ Patients’ Blues Away

PHOTO: The Lutheran Church Charities K-9 Parish Comfort Dogs visited with a survivor of the Boston bombings in the hospital just before she went in for leg surgery.
Courtesy of Lutheran Church Charities
Dogs

Dogs are the only type of therapy animal allowed to see patients at the Mayo Clinic, according to the Rochester, Minnesota hospital’s animal therapy coordinator, Jessica Borg. She said dogs attend group sessions and sometimes meet one-on-one with patients.

“Having the dog there almost takes the tension out of the room,” she said. “It’s pretty common that patients will tear up because they’re so excited, so thankful for getting five or 25 minutes of time just snuggling, hanging out with the pet.”

Borg said some patients who are unwilling to get out of bed for physical therapy jump up when she’s walking by with a dog, eager for a cuddle.

“Seeing the dog and being with the dog can change their spirits within five seconds of contact time,” she said.

Five golden retrievers were a big help after the Boston Marathon bombings last year, when they visited victims in nearby hospitals as well as shaken residents on the streets. The pups were part of Lutheran Church Charities' K-9 Comfort Dogs, which has 60 dogs that travel the country to help patients in need.

Dogs Provide Comfort to the Suffering in Boston

PHOTO: Lito Santos, left, of the US Army is seen in this undated handout photo with Lyndon Ortiz of the US Marine Corps and Chris Schwann, right, of the US Air Force. They were in the arena warming up before they performed in the Silver Spurs Rodeo.
Courtesy John Weaver/Heavenly Hooves
Horses

Former Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Lyndon Ortiz helped start a veteran’s program Heavenly Hooves, a volunteer group that provides equine-assisted therapy.

Ortiz, who suffered from PTSD after being hit with an improvised explosive device in Iraq in 2005, started as a volunteer for the group and encouraged fellow veterans to join him. He said it helped him get back to civilian life as he wanted to live it.

“I’ve seen hope in some of the guys,” Ortiz said. “Some of them were stuck at home not doing anything just stuck in those four walls and now they look forward for Tuesdays when they’re riding horses.”

Wounded Marine Vet Helps Other Vets Through Equine Therapy

Join the Discussion
You are using an outdated version of Internet Explorer. Please click here to upgrade your browser in order to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus
Share
Copy
 
You Might Also Like...
See It, Share It
PHOTO: Oscar de la Renta and Oprah Winfrey attend the Costume Institute Gala Benefit to celebrate the opening of the American Woman: Fashioning a National Identity exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, May 8, 2010, in New York City.
Rabbani and Solimene Photography/WireImage/Getty Images
PHOTO: Up in Ash: Mount Sinabung Erupting
Tibt Nangin/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
PHOTO: Firefighters rescue a woman who got stuck in a chimney in Thousand Oaks, Calif.
Ventura County Fire Department
PHOTO: Apple Pay is demonstrated at Apple headquarters on Oct. 16, 2014 in Cupertino, Calif.
Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP Photo