Creature comfort is booming

Your best friends keep getting better. More dogs and other animals are going to work as animal-assisted and pet therapists. Even a therapeutic, interactive robot created by the Japanese is helping reduce stress for health-care patients – Paro, who looks like a fluffy white seal, responds to voice, touch, light and temperature. The good news is these animal helpers – real and robotic – are creating more jobs while transforming the well-being of people who need it most: those with at-home care or who are in assisted living or care facilities, hospitals, schools, correctional facilities and mental institutions.

Companion creatures give therapy simply by being with you. Dogs, cats and rabbits sit with you, cuddle, play, walk and rest by your side. Cats calmingly purr. Horses carry you. Fish dazzle and calm by gliding through water. Animals allow you to groom, feed, watch and care for them, and the result is longer, healthier, happier lives for you and them – plus a field of research and vocation that’s booming.

The U.S. Department of Labor expects therapy jobs and positions, including pet and animal-assisted therapy, to grow more than 27 percent in the next decade. More than 90 percent of Americans in both pet-owning and non-pet-owning households told the American Humane Society in a 2012 survey that they believe an animal companion improves lives, especially the lives of people living alone, those who need at-home care, senior citizens, people who are handicapped, and young children.

The positive effects of pet and animal-assisted therapy are undeniable. As adult home care providers, we’ve seen pets ease loneliness and give a purpose for getting out of bed. Now science and medicine prove that time with a pet, something that doesn’t have to cost a lot and can help you right at home, can be one of the best ways to boost your physical, mental and emotional health.

As more people see the overall health benefits of pet and animal-assisted therapy, the practice will continue to grow throughout the U.S. It’s inspiring to see the elderly light up when they interact with a pet. Their everyday lives are enriched because of the companionship pets provide.

• Jeanette Palmer is president of Right at Home in Algonquin, which has been servicing the northwest suburbs for the past 10 years, including Barrington, Arlington Heights, Schaumburg, Palatine, McHenry, Rosemont and Park Ridge. For more information, call 847-458-8656 or visit rightathomealgonquin.com.