6 Oct 09 *New York Times* includes an article: “Exploring the
Health Benefits of Pets” by Michal Czerwonka.
Here are some excerpts:
When Chad, a yellow Labrador retriever, moved in with Claire Vaccaro’s
family in Manhattan last spring, he already had an important role. As an
autism service dog, he was joining the family to help protect Ms.
Vaccaro’s 11-year-old son, Milo — especially in public, where he often
had tantrums or tried to run away.
Like many companion animals, whether service dogs or pets, Chad had an
immediate effect — the kind of effect that is noticeable but has yet to
be fully understood through scientific study.
And it went beyond the tether that connects dog and boy in public.
“Within, I would say, a week, I noticed enormous changes,” Ms. Vaccaro
said of Milo, whose autism impairs his ability to communicate and form
“More and more changes have happened over the months as their bond has
grown. He’s much calmer. He can concentrate for much longer periods of
time. It’s almost like a cloud has lifted.”
Dr. Melissa A. Nishawala, clinical director of the autism-spectrum
service at the Child Study Center at New York University, said she saw
“a prominent and noticeable change” in Milo, even though the dog just
sat quietly in the room.
“He started to give me narratives in a way he never did,” she said,
adding that most of them were about the dog.
The changes have been so profound that Ms. Vaccaro and Dr. Nishawala are
starting to talk about weaning Milo from some of his medication.
Anecdotes abound on the benefits of companion animals — whether service
and therapy animals or family pets — on human health.
But in-depth studies have been rare. Now the Eunice Kennedy Shriver
National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, part of the
National Institutes of Health, is embarking on an effort to study
whether these animals can have a tangible effect on children’s well-being.
In partnership with the Waltham Center for Pet Nutrition in England
(part of the Mars candy and pet food company), the child health
institute is seeking proposals that “focus on the interaction between
humans and animals.”
In particular, it is looking for studies on how these interactions
affect typical development and health, and whether they have therapeutic
and public-health benefits.
It also invites applications for studies that “address why relationships
with pets are more important to some children than to others” and that
“explore the quality of child-pet relationships, noting variability of
human-animal relationships within a family.”
People working with animals expect the research to back up their
At Children’s Hospital of Orange County in Southern California, for
instance, dozens of volunteers regularly take their dogs to visit
patients. Children being treated for serious illnesses often have the
blues, anxiety or depression.
“The dogs brighten them up,” said Emily Grankowski, who oversees the pet
therapy program at the hospital.
Some patients who have refused to speak will talk to the dogs, she said,
and others who have refused to move often reach for the dogs so they can
So the animals become part of the therapeutic program, especially in the
areas involving speech and movement.
“The human-animal bond bypasses the intellect and goes straight to the
heart and emotions and nurtures us in ways that nothing else can,” said
Karin Winegar, whose book “Saved: Rescued Animals and the Lives They
Transform” (Da Capo, 2008) chronicles human-animal interactions.
“We’ve seen this from coast to coast, whether it’s disabled children at
a riding center in California or a nursing home in Minnesota, where a
woman with Alzheimer’s could not recognize her husband but she could
recognize their beloved dog.”
The article is online at:
Clipping courtesy of Ken Pope