How Can Pet Therapy Help Veterans Suffering from Cancer
Every year, approximately 40k veterans receive a cancer diagnosis in the United States and unfortunately, it seems that number is increasing with every passing year. As numerous studies have shown throughout the years, there is a clear correlation between in-service exposure and the development of major health disorders later in life, including various types of cancers. Almost all veterans have utilized unsafe chemicals or toxic substances at some point during their service, whether during training, work responsibilities, or on the base.
Cancers that are related to toxic exposure may take even 30 years to develop and although the immediate connection may not be clear, any unusual and long-lasting symptom should be investigated as soon as possible.
Veterans that were in the Navy are especially prone to developing serious illnesses as there is a higher probability that they would come in contact with toxic agents such as asbestos since, before 1980 it could typically be found in any location on ships where resistance to heat was required, such as boiler rooms, engine rooms, weapons and ammunition storage rooms, meal halls, navigation rooms, and sleeping places. Unfortunately, there is no safe level of asbestos, despite OSHA's allowed limit of 0.1 fiber per cubic centimeter of air. Anyone who has come into contact with it is at risk, to varying degrees. Certain characteristics, such as age, smoking status, and duration of exposure, might dramatically raise one’s chance of acquiring an asbestos-related disease.
It’s sad to think that after years of heroic service some veterans are still battling, only this time something perhaps more ruthless than anything that could be encountered in a war - cancer. So in light of all this, one cannot help but wonder what can be done to ease this fight? Well, one thing that has proven to be extremely effective is pet therapy and here’s why:
Dogs Can Have a Huge Impact on the Mental State of Cancer Patients
Humans have had a close relationship with animals since the dawn of time, but using that companionship to promote health and well-being is a relatively new alternative therapy although, Sigmund Freud has put forward the hypothesis that it can be a useful supplement to psychoanalysis ever since 1880. Animals as companions to persons suffering from severe physical diseases such as cancer were first recognized in 1976, when Therapy Dogs International was created, shortly followed by the Delta Society (now known as Pet Partners).
In recent years, pet therapy has been utilized and studied in a variety of ways to understand the overall effect that it can have on human health. Numerous studies have proved just how effective pet therapy is for cancer patients. For example, in a 2015 study published in the Journal of Community and Supportive Cancer, researchers studied the psychological progression of patients who were visited by therapy dogs while receiving chemotherapy and radiation treatments. They discovered that having an animal-assisted visit greatly improved their quality of life and, moreover, humanized their highly intrusive treatments while another 2015 Canadian study looking at how animal-assisted therapy could help women with breast cancer, revealed that pet therapy helped patients relax and relieve worry and stress. The study also concluded that it also encouraged a more open dialogue with patients.
Cancer patients are subject to despair and loneliness as the disease takes its toll. Therapy dogs give much-needed emotional support. Even if physically they aren’t feeling well, spending time with a dog-petting its silky fur, conversing without fear of being judged, and receiving all that unconditional love-can help lift their spirits.
In many cases, but especially for those that don’t have much family or friends around, having a little furry friend to care for helps focus their attention away from their condition and onto something they can control. And, sometimes, that can mean the difference between giving up and moving forward.
While it’s true that from the standpoint of traditional medicine dogs cannot heal diseases, the influence they have on people battling cancer is enormous.
Overall, multiple years of studying the effects that dogs especially could have on a cancer patient's mental health have led to the conclusion that caring for a pet can:
- Lower stress levels
- Have a calming effect
- Improve mood
- Decrease anxiety
- Decrease loneliness, isolation and improve depression symptoms
- Increase the will to live for patients in terminal phases
Our Furry Friends Can Also Help Ease Physical Symptoms
Although there are fewer studies that research pet therapy for cancer patients or other disorders, the conclusions drawn until now have been extremely positive not only regarding the psychological effect that pet therapy has, but also its potential to have physical effects too. For example, one study discovered that pet therapy during chemotherapy helped both sadness and blood oxygenation (the amount of oxygen carried in the blood). Other studies on cancer patients have discovered that it can decrease pain and the need for medication as well as fatigue by causing the release of endorphins and lowers blood pressure and cortisol levels.
Also, for people whose cancer has led to physical disabilities, pet therapy - more specifically service dogs can assist with physical rehabilitation; petting a dog can help you develop your sensory and fine motor skills and walking and playing with a dog on a leash can improve your balance and coordination.
- Helping patients in wheelchairs navigate them
- Assist patients in walking and prevent them from falling
- Helping patients with small tasks such as carrying groceries, turning on lights, picking up items and, most importantly, barking for help to alert others.
Why Pet Therapy Works So Well
It is challenging to construct clinical research to evaluate why exactly pet therapy works since it includes psychological, physiological, emotional, and physical components. As a result, the science behind it is still in its early stages. Several theories have been proposed to explain why pet therapy benefits people with physical and mental illnesses. A lot of it has to do with dog’s ability to reduce stress and increase the level of endorphins. But while identifying why pet therapy works may be difficult, measuring patients' reactions to animals is simpler. Believe it or not, studies found that as little as 5 minutes of petting and playing with a dog can lead to significant reduction in stress levels.
Because animals can cause the release of endorphins, pet therapy can assist a person in remaining calm during chemotherapy or radiation sessions. The presence of a nonjudgmental pet might help a person to interact with their emotions as well as others in the room. They become less focused on their own problems as they pay attention to the animal, allowing them to begin talking about themselves and contemplating fresh options.
Petting animals has also been shown to release oxytocin, a hormone that makes you feel better and has a relaxing impact. Caring for a pet instills a renewed feeling of responsibility in those suffering from depression as a result of their sickness, which is critical in their recovery and fight to beat cancer.
Essentially, pet therapy relies on the human-animal bond which time has proven again and again that it can be stronger than anything. We’ve heard countless heartbreaking stories about the infinite loyalty that pets prove to their owners, and, in the end, this therapy method if nothing else proves it once again. And although the idea of pet therapy is mostly focused on dogs, it is worthy to mention that other pets such as cats, horses, guinea pigs, rabbits and even chicken can all have a significant impact on a patient’s mental health.
We (humans) Can Show Our Support and Spread Kindness too! Here’s how:
Sometimes, all it takes to say thanks to our veterans and show support is a small gesture of kindness, something as small as a gift basket! Gestures like these can help boost the morale of a cancer patient and put a smile on their face when maybe they need it the most.
In case you want to donate a small gift for a veteran’s dog since many of the veterans with cancer have an emotional support dog, feel free to include dog items in your basket or donate objects as such and the people behind the campaign will deliver your contribution to a veteran with a dog. This campaign is also dedicated to the pets that are doing an amazing job to help veterans with cancer stay strong and fight against this reckless disease. If you are interested in being part of the Heroes and Sacrifices | Kindness Campaign, all you have to do is just fill out the form at the bottom of the official page.
” Through the Kindness Campaign we want to help as many veterans as we can, show our appreciation for their service and everything they’ve done and maybe even enhance their quality of life. We encourage everyone, regardless of their background, to get involved in this program and spread kindness!” -
Jonathan Sharp, CFO - Environmental Litigation Group, P.C.
More than 200 gift baskets were delivered to veterans with cancer across the country and they always enjoyed these small and surprising gifts. These are just small acts of kindness that make a person feel valued and appreciated
Within the kindness campaign, veterans suffering from cancer and their families can request gift baskets that are being prepared by individuals who want to get involved in this campaign and donated by partners.
While it’s true that we could never compete with dogs and their unconditional love and support and every other good thing that their presence brings in everyone’s lives, we can take the second place by showing and spreading kindness, be it through this campaign or any little act that we can perform for people in need of a smile!(: