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Nancy was only 8 years old, but she had suffered much abuse at the hands of her mother. In fact, she had to visit the hospital several times. Finally, the court ruled that Nancy should undergo therapy sessions twice a week to help her recover from her ordeal. Nancy refused to speak about her experience, despite the therapist’s best efforts. Eventually, Nancy was taken to a place where she saw baby animals. When Nancy saw some newborn rabbits she got worried and asked the therapist to get the rabbits away from their mother. Nancy’s reasoning was that even mothers hurt their babies at times.This allowed the therapist an opportunity to get Nancy to recount her years of abuse, and thus helped her healing process.In Nancy’s case, animal-assisted therapy helped to set her on the path to recovery and mental stability.And it’s not just Nancy. Countless children and mentally disabled people can be helped with this relatively new form of therapy involving animals. Animal-assisted therapy has its foundation from a phenomenon called ‘biophilia’. The biophilia hypothesis suggests that people have an instinctive tendency to connect with nature in all forms. The hypothesis works on the assumption that if we see an animal in a restful state, we receive signals of safety and security. Animals can be used in various settings, including hospitals, hospices, prisons and mental institutions. Horses, dogs, rabbits, cats and even dolphins have be used successfully to rehabilitate people and improve their mental faculties. According to a study conducted, dogs can also detect illnesses such as cancer with proper training. They can detect lung and breast cancer with specificity and sensitivity from 88% to 97%. A woman, Claire Guest, was diagnosed with breast cancer after her 8-year old labrador, Daisy showed signals of distress towards her. She kept jumping up and pushing her nose towards Claire’s chest. Had Daisy not detected this, Claire would have had a poor prognosis. Besides this, interaction with animals has also been shown to have cardiovascular and physiological benefits. The AMA released a statement in 2013 that showed that people who own pets, specifically dogs, have a decreased risk of contracting a cardiovascular disease. Researchers at the University of Missouri-Colombia have found that interacting with animals creates a hormonal response that helps to fight against mental illnesses like depression. Studies showed the increase of a hormone known as serotonin, a neurotransmitter that affects mood. Besides this, it also showed an increase in the levels of oxytocin and prolactin, hormones that promote a positive feeling. AAT also helps in improving psychological health. It has been reported that AAT is effective in improving social skills of people, easing anxiety and improving mood.An article in the Journal of Psychosocial  Nursing and Mental Health Services described an experience with a dog named Cocoa, reported that factors as loneliness, social isolation and depression can be reduced just by the act of petting a dog. The dog becomes a source of encouragement by being non-judgmental and attentive to the patient. A healing environment is fostered when a patient and a dog interact with each other.

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