The Healing Power of Animals

Creating a bond with animals enriches our lives and relationships with other humans. Here's why you should try pet therapy.


Pet lovers are more than aware of the special bond they share with their four-legged friend, including how the unconditional love and affection from a pet can alleviate negative emotions. Science supports how connecting with an animal can change our lives in many ways.


“By observing or interacting with animals, I believe we can glimpse other worlds, worlds beyond our human perception and experience,” said Dr Annie Potts, co-director of the New Zealand Centre for Human-Animal Studies for the University of Canterbury. “Personally I find this really inspirational. Watching seagulls fly, for example. This is not an experience we can know ourselves, but we can glimpse how this is for another creature, and watching this difference in experience can open our own worlds up to myriad things: compassion towards another being, respect for their abilities, and best of all, we can experience wonder when we truly engage with another species.”


The use of pet therapy, or animal-assisted therapy, is not new. Dr Aubrey Fine, a US specialist in this field, has been using the technique for more than 30 years. However, the applications have grown and adapted over the years. In Liam Creed’s book, A Puppy Called Aero (Hachette, 2009), he describes how he was able to overcome much of the ‘bad behaviour’ associated with his attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). In Australia, the Delta Society runs a Pet Partners programme where teams of volunteers with specially trained dogs visit hospital and nursing homes.


But it’s not just pets that can enrich our lives. Striking up a bond with so-called ‘farm’ animals can also be rewarding, said author Jeffrey Masson. A former US resident, Masson, who has written several books on the emotional lives of farm animals, now resides in New Zealand. He describes a pig called Piglet who lived on a beach in Auckland and “made the sweetest sounds” during a full moon.


Potts believes there’s also much to learn from our feathered friends. “One of the key things we can learn from [birds] is how to simply enjoy life and not be burdened by our very human concerns such as career and consumerism,” she said.