People whisperers- how animals help us heal

girl snuggling with cat


Man’s best friend

Calling dogs “man’s best friend” may be a cliché, but it seems true for many people who consider their pets to be family members. And for some people animals are not only pets, but helpers and therapists.



dog in a field



More than pets

Dogs have been used to help visually impaired persons for hundreds of years, but now they and other animals assist people with other types of disabilities, as well as provide companionship and comfort.

Besides “guide dogs” who assist blind persons, other categories of animal helpers include

An emotional support animal (ESA) is a companion animal which provides therapeutic benefit, such as alleviating or mitigating some symptoms of the disability, to an individual with a mental or psychiatric disability. Emotional support animals are typically dogs and cats, but may include other animals.


cat lying on the ground next to green shrubs





A service animal is 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.


Dr. Vania Manipod  explains how these terms apply to psychiatric illnesses in her blog post here-

Therapy Pet-Friendly Guide


woman on a horse





The Americans with Disabilities Act, ADA, “requires State and local government agencies, businesses, and non-profit organizations (covered entities) that provide goods or services to the public to make “reasonable modifications” in their policies, practices, or procedures when necessary to accommodate people with disabilities. The service animal rules fall under this general principle.”


Other countries may have different laws so if you plan to travel abroad with your animal assistant, you should check the laws for your destination prior to arrival to avoid any problems with your animal’s entry or departure.


Remember that animal assistants are not just pets, they are working; so we should not distract them or interfere with their duties when we encounter them, as this report warns.

Guide dog handlers are urging the public to resist the temptation to pat the working animals regardless of how cute they are.



The Veteran’s Health Administration uses horses to help veterans deal with PTSD.



And for other veterans, “living with wolves” saves their lives.




white chicken
I don’t know if chickens can qualify as service animals, but we appreciate the eggs they provide for us.






I welcome your comments about how an animal assistant has aided you or a family member.


Author: Aletha Cress Oglesby, M.D.

As a family physician, I explore the HEART of HEALTH in my work, recreation, community, and through writing. My blog, Watercress Words, informs and inspires us to live in health. I believe we can turn our health challenges into healthy opportunities. When we do, we can share the HEART of health with our families, communities, and the world. Come explore and share with me.

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