Therapeutic Value of Animals
Zoos are not only great sources of recreation; research also indicates positive health benefits when people and animals interact. Several treatment programs were begun using animals for their therapeutic value. The York Retreat, of York England, founded in 1792, is the first recorded center using animals for the treatment of individuals with mental illness (Cusack & Smith, 1984).
Scientific research on the therapeutic benefits of animals to humans was not done until the 1960's and 70's. Dr. Boris Levinson, a New York psychiatrist, provided the first published article on the use of his dog Jingles, in the treatment of a young patient. The patient had been unresponsive to Dr. Levinsons treatment. However, upon arriving to a treatment session early he met the doctor's dog, Jingles. The patient went to the dog and while petting him began to tell Jingles about his problems. Dr. Levinson was able to communicate to the patient as if speaking to the dog. After several sessions the patient then communicated with the doctor directly and was successfully treated (Cusack & Smith, 1984).
Not only do animals have positive affects for people in treatment programs, but also to an individual's health when they interact with animals in a variety of circumstances. Several studies over the years have revealed that people experience a lowering of blood pressure when petting animals. The University of Pennsylvania did one of the best known studies back in 1980 (Cusack & Smith, 1984). Their research showed that people's blood pressure, respiration and heart rate increased when they came in contact with other people. However, when a person touched a familiar or non-threatening animal, their blood pressure, respiration and heart rate decreased.
Other studies have shown that watching fish in an aquarium has a positive effect in lowering blood pressure. The research showed that after the patients watched fish at a dental office that not only was their blood pressure lowered, but they needed less pain killing medication during their dental examination and surgeries (Kamberg, 1989).
Not only have people benefited in areas of less pain and better health, but also in the speed of their recovery from surgery and other hospital treatments. The Columbia Hospital of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Children's Hospital in Denver and Stanford Children's Hospital allow visitation of pets with their owners who are hospitalized. These hospitals recognized that the animals help speed the recovery of those individuals (Nelson, 1986).
As the research has indicated, animals increase the mental well-being of individuals through their companionship, and physical health benefits, such as lower blood pressure. Another important benefit humans receive from animals is emotional, such as security and increased self-esteem because of their non-critical attitude toward people (Angier, 1983; Arkow, 1984; Cusack & Smith, 1984).