The presence of pets can help adult patients, particularly those recovering from total joint-replacement surgery, minimise medication, according to a new study.

“Evidence suggests that animal-assisted therapy (AAT) can have a positive effect on a patient’s psycho-social, emotional and physical well being,” said Julia Havey, senior systems analyst, Loyola University Health System (LUHS).

“These data further support these benefits and build the case for expanding the use of pet therapy in recovery,” she added.

Animal lover Havey and Frances Vlasses began raising puppies to become assistance dogs more than a decade ago through a programme called Canine Companions for Independence (CCI).

The non-profit organisation provides highly trained assistance dogs to people with physical and developmental disabilities free of charge.

“As nurses, we are committed to improving the quality of life for others,” said Vlasses, associate professor at the University School of Nursing.

“This service experience has provided us with a unique way to combine our love for animals with care for people with special needs,” said Vlasses.

Besides the financial obligations that go along with raising a puppy, Havey and Vlasses take the dogs to class and teach them house and public etiquette until they are old enough to enter a formal training programme.

“You might see our four-legged friends around Loyola’s campus from time to time,” said Havey, also a registered nurse at LUHS.

“Part of our responsibility as volunteers, is to acclimate these dogs to people. The Loyola community has so graciously supported this training and the use of service dogs on campus,” added Havey.

When the dogs are approximately 15 months of age, Havey and Vlasses return them to CCI’s regional training centre for six to nine months where they are trained to be one of four types of assistance dogs.

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