Therapy pets help improve patients' quality of life

Roxy and DonnaBy Donna J. Amato and her dog Roxy. Ms. Amato is president of Pets for Life, Inc

The purpose of Pets for Life, Inc. is to provide the therapeutic touch of pets and volunteers for people with either physical or mental disorders who are confined in local institutions. We hope to improve the quality of life for these patients, and to assist with the patients’ care plan.

Clinical research continues to verify the positive effects of animal-assisted therapy:

  • anxiety is lessened
  • depression is improved
  • blood pressure is lowered
  • heart rates decrease
  • reduced risk of heart attack

Our services are offered free to the community.

But this is only part of what happens during an animal-assisted therapy visit. Our volunteers and therapy pets visit people of all ages, every day of the week, at a variety of facility types. We bring smiles and happiness to many who receive no other visitors. Our pets certainly make a difference to those they visit, sometimes coaxing out behaviors that hadn't been seen in some time — just to smile when one wasn’t there before or speak a word when one hasn’t spoken in some time.

Pets for LifeWhen the volunteers arrive, several residents are waiting for them in their wheelchairs in the lobby. There was the patient who, for the three weeks since her stroke, had not uttered a word or moved her limbs. She started speaking to the dog RUFUS and reached out to pet him, much to the surprise and delight of staff and family members.

A facility serving adults with developmental disabilities reports, “Clients respond to our visits with increased participation in group activities, increased verbalization, increased comfort level with animals, increased ability to follow directions, improved range of motion, sensory stimulation and enhanced mood. One client has been able to maintain maximum flexibility and minimize muscle contractures due to his cerebral palsy through the arm and hand motions required to pet the therapy animals.”

Staff at residential treatment centers for youth are amazed at the effect our visits have on the most withdrawn clients. Children learn empathy for others. The most agitated clients are calmer. Children with a history of violence learn to treat the animals and volunteers with respect. Over-excited clients learn to take turns and improve their social skills.

Many times patients in nursing homes had to give up their pet because they could no longer care for them. Our visits help them feel less lonely and depressed. The dogs offer a distraction from pain and current health situations. Not only is the visit important, but so is the wonderful memory of spending time with the animal. We leave behind business cards with the pet’s photo (called friendship cards). Many keep the picture on their night stand so they can see it when they wake up.

Pets for Life helps children improve their reading skills through the R.E.A.D. (Reading Education Assistance Dogs) program at schools and libraries.

Our Leash Pals program teaches children to make proper choices that keep them safe by teaching them when it is appropriate to ask permission to pet a dog, when it is best to walk away, and what to do if they are threatened by an angry or fearful dog.

This blog post is part of A Healthy 10.


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HCF's Local Health Buzz Blog aims to discuss health and health policy issues that impact the uninsured and underserved in our service area. To submit a blog, please contact HCF Communications Officers, Jennifer Sykes, at



About Bridget's Blog

Bridget McCandless

Bridget McCandless, MD, MBA, FACP, HCF President/CEO

Bridget McCandless is the President/CEO of the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City and is a Board Certified Internal Medicine Specialist with an interest in chronic disease management and poverty medicine. She shares her thoughts and perspectives on health and policy issues that impact the health of the community as a whole.

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