Dogs and human health/mental health: from the pleasure of their company to the benefits of their assistance

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Author: Jan Shubert
Date: April-June 2012
From: U.S. Army Medical Department Journal
Publisher: U.S. Army Medical Department Center & School
Document Type: Report
Length: 5,925 words

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From Pets To Assistants

Although we tend to identify the 20th century as the time when dogs and animals in general were first used to provide assistance to people with a variety of physical and mental diagnoses, this actually is not the case. The first documented example of the therapeutic use of animals occurred in 9th century Gheel, Belgium, where animals were part of the "therapie naturelle" provided for the handicapped by members of the community. (1(p7)2)

The first use of animals specifically for the treatment of the mentally ill occurred in late 18th century York, England. (3,4) After the death of a Quaker in the inhumane conditions in what was then the York Asylum, a wealthy Quaker merchant, William Tuke, raised money to open the York Retreat in 1796 to care for the insane. Tuke's methods were quite different from the coercive and punitive approaches in use at that time. Patients wore their own clothing and had the opportunity to work at crafts, read books, write, and wander the grounds, which contained a variety of small animals. The combination of the example set by the York Retreat, the continued efforts of the Tuke family to improve the treatment of the mentally ill, and a scathing report on conditions in British mental hospitals during the 1830s initiated gradual improvements in the overall treatment of the mentally ill. (4)

The first documented therapeutic use of animals in the United States took place during World War II at an Army Air Corps convalescent hospital in Pawling, New York. According to Bustad and Hines, (1(p19)) the hospital functioned more as a rest home than a medical facility for patients suffering from "operational fatigue," which is probably called posttraumatic stress disorder today. The facility provided both an academic program and the physical activity of working at the facility's farm.

Defining Some Terms

Although the history of human-animal relationships is filled with tales of how animals, dogs in particular, benefited humans, most of those examples were relatively informal, possibly even coincidental. The dogs did not receive any specific training, and there were no formal programs. In the 20th century, however, formal programs were developed to train dogs to provide a variety of services to humans.

Basically, there are 2 categories of dogs that provide assistance to people with disabilities: service dogs and therapy dogs. Although the phrase "assistance dog" is used frequently, and there is an organization called "Assistance Dogs International," the term assistance dog has no meaning in law. A recent amendment to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) (42 USC [section]12101-12213 and 47 USC [section]225, 611), which became effective March 15, 2011, defines a service animal as:

any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. ... The work or tasks performed by a service animal must be directly related to the handler's disability. (5)

Whether or not therapy dogs are...

Source Citation

Source Citation
Shubert, Jan. "Dogs and human health/mental health: from the pleasure of their company to the benefits of their assistance." U.S. Army Medical Department Journal, 2012, p. 21+. Accessed 11 Apr. 2021.

Gale Document Number: GALE|A288538042