Human-animal connection helps with healing

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Perhaps the “cat lady” door is simply ahead of the curve in understanding the extraordinary benefits of the human-animal connection.  Full Frame contributor Sandra Hughes set out to understand how interactions with cats, horses, birds, dolphins, and many other animals can result in substantial improvements in physical and emotional well-being for people living with a variety of medical conditions.

Human-animal connection helps with healing

Human-animal connection helps with healing

Full Frame contributor Sandra Hughes sets out to understand how human interactions with cats, horses, birds, and many other animals can result in substantial improvements in physical and emotional well-being.
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Every weekend, Michael McGinnis, a 13-year-old boy with autism, goes to Shadow Hills Riding Club for horseback riding lessons. The riding lessons have helped McGinnis to develop muscle tone, coordination, and communication skills.

“It’s made a big difference for him,” Mary McGinnis, Michael’s mother, said. “He’s calmer. He just seems more regulated. He doesn’t have meltdowns as easily.”

At its core, equine therapy is about making a connection between the horse and its rider.

“Horses are empathetic. So each time that they come to the session, it’s a clean slate—even if they’ve worked with that client before,” said Johnny Higginson, program director at Shadow Hills Riding Club. “And they mirror the emotion of the client.”

While at Serenity Park Sanctuary, Hughes witnessed the life-changing influence that rescued parrots have had on war veterans – many of whom are struggling with PTSD

“We rescue parrots, wolves and/or coyotes, and foxes,” said Matthew Simmons, the director of Serenity Park.  “But more importantly we rescue veterans, and we give them a chance at reintroduction and family reunification.”

The relationships formed with the animals has helped many of the veterans in the program address and resolve many of the challenges of returning from war, including addiction and family relationships.

Two healthcare experts also stopped by the studio to share their insights on animal-assisted therapy.  Dr. Christine Forest, a psychiatrist, uses her therapy dog, River, in sessions with her patients and attributes many of her patient’s breakthroughs to River’s intuitive and calming nature.

Dr. Amber Andersen, medical director and owner of Redondo Veterinary Medical Center, shared experiences of her animal patients – house pets and exotic animals alike – that have profoundly enriched the health of their owners.

River, the therapy dog, is also on set – testing Mike’s “dog-whispering” skills!

Follow Dr. Christine Forest @ChristineForest 

Follow Dr. Amber Andersen @AnimalDrAmber