Angels…With Tails

Most people feel repulsed or prejudiced when faced with others who are different or look different. This has been attributed to the human ego and superego, which makes humans more discriminating than other creatures created by The Maker.

This human ego can sometimes put us to shame when compared to animals.

“Animals do not judge or discriminate. They just accept you for who you are,” says Anthony Thanasayan, President of the Malaysian Animal-Assisted Therapy for the Disabled and Elderly Association (Petpositive).

Paralysed from waist down, Anthony is an advocate for animal-assisted therapy, which involves training animals to help improve the quality of life of the elderly, sick and disabled. He owns four dogs, each with a unique personality, that help him around with his daily life.

“My dogs help me stay happy and healthy,” says the 52-year-old columnnist who believes that pet relationships can provide the disabled and elderly with a higher quality of life. How is that so?

NEW REASON FOR LIVING

It is something most people do not want to know about, but the fact is that many disabled and elderly people are being abandoned by their loved ones and children. What’s worse is the discrimination from society, who try to ignore their presence in this world. That’s where keeping a pet can help.

“For instance, someone who has given up on life now has a reason to get up in the mornings or go home, because there is an animal waiting for you,” says Anthony. Having a pet places certain responsibilities on the owner, forcing them to look beyond their immediate problems.

Pet owners tend to take better care of their health, because they worry that nobody will take care of their beloved pet if they fall sick or get admitted into the hospital. Even if they are hospitalized, there is stronger determination to recover quickly so that they can return home to be with their pet/s.

“Scientific research has even proven that a person’s wounds heal faster when they are being with their pet/s”, says Anthony.

If a person is prescribed bed rest, having a pet for companion keeps the patient positive, which also enhances the healing process. For Anthony, his dogs’ antics are his favourite entertainment because the way they behave and play keeps his spirits up. Since laughter is the best medicine, his dogs’ daily dose helps him stay healthy.

He relates a past experience when he was admitted into hospital and was asked to rest in bed for six months to allow his wound to heal.

Deciding to take a proactive stand, he requested to be sent home with a doctor’s consent, assuring the healthcare team that he would rest in bed. With his beloved dogs by his side, he found that he was more optimistic and hence he recovered faster.

A PAW IN NEED, A FRIEND INDEED

Therapy dogs are one of the many types of animals used to assist the elderly and disabled. “In some countries, these well-groomed and trained dogs are even trained to enter hospitals,” says Anthony.

For instance, therapy dogs are not allowed to lick people to ensure that diseases are not spread through licking.  Patients are also given appropriate advice on how to pet therapy dogs, which is not too close to the mouth. Therapy dogs are also trained to be calm around people and can adapt to different environments.

Although research on therapy dogs is rare, a 2010 study conducted by researchers in St Louis that was published in the National Geographic found that brief weekly visits with a therapy dog reduces loneliness in elderly patients at hospitals.

Besides therapy dogs, there are also seizure alert dogs who can sense when their owner is going to have an epileptic seizure, service dogs who help owners pick up fallen objects or push a wheelchair, guide dogs for the blind and hearing dogs for the those who are hearing-impaired.

THE RIGHT CARE

When it comes to dogs, one thing that needs to be changed is the mindset of society. Anthony says that many people tend to have a stereotypical perception that all dogs do is bite.

Not all dogs are aggressive, he stresses. One of his service dogs was a Rottweiler, who can be very playful, as he found out through the American Canal Society. “Dogs are known for their loyalty. If a dog loves you, it will listen to you. But the way you treat and train your dogs play an important part in the character building of your pet.”

Like humans, dogs and pets also do not like being yelled at or beaten. Anthony shares that when he picked his Rottweiler at the pet shop and asked how to train it, the shop sales person had advised him to hit the dog with a slipper if it disobeyed him. “I don’t agree with that at all,” says Anthony.

How about coping with the loss of a beloved pet? Anthony states, “Everyone has to go through it. Pet owners should not mourn the deaths but focus on how the pets have changed their lives,” he says. “Dogs are like angels, just without wings but with tails. They come to earth for a mission. When their mission is completed, they leave.”

Did you know?

  • Studies show that when you stroke a dog, your blood pressure levels will decrease.
  • There is ongoing research on the nose of the dog, which is believed to be able to detect diseases and health problems.
  • Petting or stroking an animal helps to calm you down especially before a trip to the hospital, dentist or before an interview.

CARING COUNCILS

Dog license fees are waived for people in need of assisted-animal therapy by Majlis Bandaraya Petaling Jaya (MBPJ) and Majlis Bandaraya Shah Alam (MBSA) in recognition of the contribution of dogs to society.

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