VET’S VIEW: Benefits of pets for children with disabilities

CHILDREN and animals make natural friends, and for those with disabilities, that friendship includes invaluable physical and emotional therapy, too.

Swimming with dolphins is one thing, but they can’t live with children in the way pets can.

Children with disabilities benefit from many kinds of animal, developing relationships – becoming comfortable with them, learning about responsibility, and caring for another living being.

Assistance dogs are trained to perform many tasks, from guiding the visually impaired, alerting people with impaired hearing to specific sounds, seeking help when the person suffers a seizure (and predicting them, too), as well as retrieving dropped items, opening doors, and helping with balance.

Dogs provide companionship critical to development, with breeds such as Labradors commonly helping children with physical disabilities including muscular dystrophy and cerebral palsy. Assistance dogs enable children to feel independent and confidence by accompanying them 24/7 making them feel less ‘alone’, offering more freedom from their parents, and vice versa.

Dogs’ jackets inform strangers about the disability, attracting positive attention, combating loneliness, and raising awareness of that charity/organisation, too.

Working with animals keeps children motivated, using physical therapy, comfort, companionship and confidence, often improving both physical and mental abilities. Some dogs are now even trained to raise the alarm when detecting miniscule blood sugar level changes in diabetic patients.

Mastering new skills is so important for children with disabilities, with activities such as horse-riding helping treat diverse disabilities, including Down’s syndrome and autism. Riding also improves muscle tone, balance, posture, co-ordination, motor development, emotional well-being, and feeling independent away from wheelchairs.

To celebrate the relationship between children and animals, come along to Worthing Rotary Carnival on bank holiday Monday afternoon, as I’m judging the fun dog show in Steyne Gardens with all proceeds going to West Sussex’s amazing Chestnut Tree House children’s hospice. See you there!