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HomeNewsCommunityReal or robot: experts say animals are good for mental health

Real or robot: experts say animals are good for mental health

Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences has more than 150 volunteers, two of which are therapy dogs: Molly, a 13-year-old Dalmatian, and Aspen, an eight-year-old Golden Retriever.

They offer one-on-one supports with patients and are trained to read anxiety or a change in someone’s energy.

Ontario Shores has upgraded its tech with two companion pet cats. These are robotic cats that look and feel the same as a real cat. Amber Stefan, the volunteer services specialist at Ontario Shores, says the artificial cats help seniors battle loneliness.

“In geriatrics there’s a lot of exploring the use of robotic animals. You’ll notice sometimes that there’s cats that purr or roll, and that can be really helpful for individuals with dementia or cognitive impairment,” Stefan says.

The use of companion pets is rising quickly. The National Library of Medicine (NIH) suggests robotic animal interventions can improve depression, agitation, and quality of life.

It’s not uncommon these days for people to want their own therapy animal. Ontario Shores staff have seen a rise in patients being released from their programs looking at getting their own after feeling the impact from Molly and Aspen, according to Stefan.

The qualifications to become a therapy animal are intense. Dogs must be able to do basic commands, but there are other needs like constantly updating their vaccines and not being on a raw-meat diet.

According to St. John Ambulance Ontario, it can take one-and-a-half years to two years to complete the therapy dog training.

Sabrina Rennie, Kinesiology student at Ontario Tech University, and a student trainer for athletics at Durham College has had animals all her life. They have helped her deal with anxiety. She has seen another side to animal therapy within recovery and daily life.

“Therapy dogs and therapy animals do help. They help a lot. I couldn’t say it more. They just make you feel more at home, more comfortable and definitely reduces a lot of stress,” she says.

Stefan says Ontario Shores staff have seen an increase in social engagement and communication with their patients. She says therapy animals have decreased the feelings of loneliness, boredom, and improved quality of life