Photo courtesy of Hand in Paw
The Benefits of Animal-Assisted Therapy Hand in Paw Makes a Difference with Four-Footed Friends Whether you are a dog lover, a cat person or even prefer horses, most folks have some fondness for animals and there is good reason for it. Pets make a difference in the lives of people. They can work, cuddle, play, chew, dig and beg their way right into our hearts. Numerous sources list the many benefits of pet ownership and interaction. Experts agree. Animal assisted therapy can provide comfort, help create a sense of safety, improve a child’s capacity for empathy, and even provide opportunity for children who have faced trauma to receive affection and learn healthy touch. I have had some first-hand experience as to how much impact a pet can have in a family. For 15 years, my husband and I fostered children through the state of Alabama and eventually adopted seven of the dozens of children that we had in our home. Children who are in foster care have faced some sort of trauma; if nothing else, the trauma 14 | birminghamparent | september 2017
of having been placed into foster care will greatly impact their lives. On the rare occasion, children would be happy to be in our home right from the start, but that was the exception and not the rule. By in large, when the children arrived on our doorsteps they were feeling angry, betrayed and distrustful of any adult, including us. They had their reasons and no one could deny that they did. It took time, love, boundaries, patience and lots of prayer on our part. Sometimes, however, that simply wasn’t enough. Try as we might, we couldn’t find a way to reach all of them, not every single one. Thankfully we had a secret weapon. Her name was Muffin. Muffin was our pet black cocker spaniel and she was a beauty. She had long silky hair, soulful eyes and a calm disposition, unless a squirrel ran through the yard, that is. My husband found her at a shelter after we had been married only a few months. The card read that
By Stephanie Rodda
she was given up because of a new baby in the family. For the first 12 years of our marriage, she was the only baby in our family as we struggled with infertility. When we decided to become a foster family, she became a valuable part of the team and what we could offer children who needed caring for. She always welcomed each child and not once was she rejected. I might offer a hug and be refused, but Muffin’s attentions were embraced. The children, especially the older ones, would risk loving her before they could risk loving us. Muffin was their safe place. We have an organization based right here in Birmingham that is practicing what we saw firsthand years ago as Muffin soothed and calmed distressed children by her very presence. Hand in Paw serves the community with a variety of unique services. It is a non-profit organization headquartered in Birmingham. Its mission statement is “To improve human health and
Fall Special Needs Issue.