A bus carrying several clinical students from the local college pulls up in front of the nursing home. The students begin to unload some boxes which contain puppies and kittens ranging in age from three to six months. Once inside, the students begin to pass the puppies and kittens out to the patients that are waiting expectantly in the recreation room. Some patients are alone, some are in groups, but all are delighted to see the animals arrive. As the animals are being passed out, the patients begin smiling, laughing, and talking to the animals. They stroke their coats, play with them, and feed them snacks that they have saved for this occasion. While the patients are interacting with other students and staff, two of the students begin making notes on the activities that are taking place in the room. The patients, staff, and students are clearly enjoying themselves, but there are greater benefits to be found here.
Research has been done in the area of human-animal companionship and security, and stress management. Due to the relative newness of this field and the difficulties in studying it, most research has been concentrated on the elderly, specifically, institutionalized elderly. Pets have been introduced into these settings in order to minimize the negative consequences of institutionalization. Most research has been conducted on the extreme ends of the continuum, either very brief visitation or therapy of resident pets studies (Wrinkler 216).
Pet visitation programs for institutionalized elderly have found that patients often show great interest momentarily, but these effects are short-lived. The social response and involvement of the residents are only evident while the animal is present. This type of brief interaction does not allow an opportunity for the patient to form any attachments to the animal. Resident pets, however, give the elderly people more time to experience the benefits that could come from ongoing human-animal relationships. Research by Corson & Corson has shown that these programs may assist patients with social skills, increased self esteem and becoming more independent and responsible (216). The most frequently mentioned benefit of resident pets was the overall level of patient responsiveness. Specifically, as nonjudgmental companions, the pets served as a catalyst and outlet for affection. They also gave the patients additional opportunities to express and receive love, and elicited tenderness and kindness (Brickel 370).
Two studies of the elderly by Garrity, Ory, and Goldberg found that greater attachment to a pet was associated with better mental health and also better physical health when human companionship was inadequate (Siegel 1085). Life events arousing needs for companionship in the elderly have resulted in increased doctor contacts. These may have occurred because the doctor provided the companionship needed, or the...