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The Healing Power of Animals

Heal
Though rescue dogs aren't trained for animal therapy, the power of the human-animal bond cannot be denied.

Bernd Obermann/Corbis (2002)

To schoolchildren and hospital patients, even to families of Ground Zero victims, animals prove their worth as therapists.

This article appeared in the Fall 2002 issue of Spirituality & Health. Kevin, Shawn, and Anthony are students from Green Chimneys, a residential treatment center, school, and farm for troubled children in Brewster, New York. Today the three were chosen to bring some of the farm animals from Green Chimneys to the disabled children at the nearby Ferncliff Residence in Hastings. The teens wait in a small enclosure that holds rabbits, exotic chickens, two pot-bellied piglets, a duck, a fluffy guinea pig, and a pair of two-month-old African pygmy goats that could have been created by Disney. Two of the boys, without a trace of self-consciousness, are cuddling the little goats. Soon, attendants wheel the young children to the enclosure. Many are frail, twisted shapes. Some have bright, inquiring eyes; others are mute, unmoving, with blank expressions. Profoundly retarded as a result of birth defects, meningitis, or accidents such as drowning, these children seem to represent everything that can go terribly wrong with the human body. “Would you like to pet a rabbit?” Kevin asks, taking a child’s sm …

Patricia Curtis has written extensively about animals and has been documenting progress in animal therapy for twenty years. A former editor for Family Circle magazine, Curtiss books include The Indoor Cat: How to Understand, Enjoy, and Care for House Cats (Perigee, 1997) and City Dog: Choosing and Living Well With a Dog in Town (Lantern, 2002).


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