Pet and Animal Therapy with the Elderly

We all know that having a pet therapy or animal therapy programs benefit residents. But do you know how and why? Tanya Bailey of Natural Connections came to speak at a MAPA seminar on Animal- Assisted Interactions. It was a wonderful presentation full of great information.  We will pass on a few highlights for those of you that did not make it to the session.

The University of Minnesota is really taking a look at Nature-Based Therapies (everything outside, including animals) and how it impacts us in their Center for Spirituality and Healing program. In fact, the world is looking at this impact as well. A book called Green Care: A Conceptual Framework is the result of cooperation by scientists brought together under the COST (European Cooperation in Science and Technology) program. From COST “ ‘Green Care’ is a range of activities that promotes physical and mental health and well-being through contact with nature. It utilizes farms, gardens and other outdoor spaces as a therapeutic intervention for vulnerable adults and children. Green care includes care farming, therapeutic horticulture, animal assisted therapy and other nature-based approaches. These are now the subject of investigation by researchers from many different countries across the world.”

Based on Tanya’s presentation the foundations and research to support an animal-assisted intervention are:

Evolutionary (Biophilia)- this is that we have “an innate connection to our natural world, and our continued divorce from it has led to the loss of not only a vast intellectual legacy born of intimacy with nature but also our very sanity” stated by Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson

A thought proposed by Tanya is that this could be facilities highest return on investment when they look at remodeling and updating facilities. Bring nature into the building. It’s simply and done easily. I agree.

Hormonal (Oxytocin)-this is our feel good hormone. When you have new residents in the building, how long does it take for them to feel connected and to make eye contact and be engaged? For some it can take quite some time. Using animals to assist in engaging residents and having them make contact and connection with them first and then transfer that connection to the staff. The sense of touch and intimacy can make us feel good!

Neurobiology-understanding that certain illnesses and age can affect our brain and how we process information. Using animals can lead to some exciting changes in behavior. David Rock, author talks about how animals can help people facilitate trust, a main component to change. It’s reparative as well. Residents can open up and talk about things they never have before in the presence of an animal.

Spiritual-this is the component that we have all felt before in the presence of great nature such as mountains or great lakes or the quiet breeze on a field. There is a spiritual aspect to nature.

This is the idea that all of these foundations can play a large role in our everyday life. Bring in nature and animals can alter your everyday conversations into something magical, it can change the dynamic, the discussion. There is growth and learning.

A couple of key points to consider when accepting an animal program is:

  • Know the goals and objectives for your facility and residents.
  • Ask people who they are registered with?  Delta Society at is the agency of choice for training and registration.
  • What training have they had?
  • What type of dog or animal are they brining?
  • Avoid any reptile and use caution with birds, as they carry Salmonella. Research the type of animal that is brought in for your specific population.
  • Know the difference between a therapy dog and a service dog. More information can be found at

If you would like help in creating an Animal- Assisted Therapy program please contact Tayna Bailey at for help and information.

Please remember to bring nature into your residents lives and keep them connected to their world.  Check out this story to see how a special animal found love