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'Animal assist activities for general mental health'

Wag-Ville co-founder Subhadra Cherukuri speaks at a workshop on Animal-assisted Therapy here on Saturday at Anirveda Resource Centre for Psychological Wellbeing in Mangaluru on Saturday.

Wag-Ville co-founder Dr Subhadra Cherukuri said the interaction of humans with animals reduces stress, anxiety and develops communication skills among autistic children.

She was speaking on Animal-assisted Therapy (AAT) at a workshop organised at Anirveda Resource Centre for Psychological Wellbeing.

Dr Subhadra said the Animal Assist Activities (AAA) are undertaken to improve the general health and mental well-being of people.

“Animal Assisted Interventions (AAI) focus on specific a set of goals tailor-made for a patient by certified professionals. Equine (horse) assisted therapy is used to improve balance, muscle tone and coordination,” she said.

She said the animals for such programmes are carefully selected based on different criteria, like age, inherent fear and allergies of a patient towards certain animals.

She shared a case study of a seven-year-old boy who had severe levels of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

“The boy made no eye contact with anyone and was non-verbal. After three months of AAT, the boy showed a significant reduction in hyperactivity, showed increased eye contact and was able to imitate the sounds used by the handlers of the horses,” she added.

She also spoke about the case of a 70-year-old man who had developed slurred speech and poor motor skills. When introduced to Bella, a therapy dog at the centre, the elderly resident made considerable improvement in his speech just by the presence of Bella.

KSHEMA Department of Psychiatry Assistant Professor Dr Shishir Kumar said the humans and animals share a unique bond from the prehistoric era. Both humans and animals have benefited from this association since time immemorial, he remarked.

Dr Kumar said, “Any animal that has close interaction with humans can be used in animal therapy. Since its an emerging trend in India, it faces challenges like structuring a session, reception by the people and selection of animals. It is also important to understand that animal therapy, at one point, is anthropological and spiritual”.

The participants discussed the scope of animal-assisted therapy, its components and applications in the present scenario.

The programme was followed by a live demonstration of the interaction between the patient and the animal, where Bella was made to interact with a few participants.

Dr Subhadra explained the process of interacting with the animals.

A demonstration of equine assisted therapy was also conducted, where young students were seated atop the horse and some of the exercises used by the therapist to help improve body balance were explained to the participants.

Animal Care Trust Treasurer Suma R Nayak highlighted the situation of stray animals in Mangaluru.

She said, “People should develop a sense of empathy towards animals and not abandon them. They should focus on birth control measures of their pets and prevent them from abandoning the offsprings.”

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