Trained pets ease emotions, inspire

Sunday, August 31, 2008
Issue 452, Page 5
Word count: 656
Published in: Macau Daily Times

By Poyi (Natalie) Leung

Pets do not only bring joy to their owners, but can also be trained to contribute to society by engaging in animal-assisted emotional therapy, said the Macau Animal Welfare Association (MAWA) yesterday.

The MAWA, the only provider in the SAR of pet based emotional therapy, has been collaborating with an experienced working dog trainer from Hong Kong since 2006 and currently has 23 big, medium and small dogs in its so-called “animal doctor” fleet.

Apart from dogs, there are two trained cats which are used to provide therapy to elderly people.

These animal doctors have made visits to Macau’s special schools, nursing homes and juvenile probation centre in order to ease people’s emotion, bring happiness to the environment and educate the young generation to “respect lives”, veterinarian and vice chairman of the MAWA, Bang Leong said yesterday.

Speaking to the Macau Daily Times at his animal clinic in Taipa, Mr Leong said a lot of people have underestimated the effectiveness of “companion animals” in healing emotional illnesses or simply comforting people during “sad and lonely moments”.

According to the vice chairman, there was a boy who never used to smile. After seeing many psychologists the situation remained unchanged. However, shortly after the child was given the chance to play with an animal doctor for the first time, a smile finally appeared on his face, said Mr Leong.

Former chairwoman and now member of the MAWA, Rita Mok told the MDTimes how effective animal doctors are in providing therapy for children with disabilities.

“One of our cases is about a boy who has autism and learning disabilities. He would lose control whenever he saw moving objects except for humans,” Ms Mok recalled.

To their surprise, Ms Mok said the boy’s mother later found that he did not show much resistance to dogs and the MAWA’s animal doctors were introduced. Very soon both his parents and school teachers noticed the child’s behaviour had significantly improved.

In addition, the success of the visit in a juvenile probation centre gave great encouragement for the members of MAWA to continue promote the significance of animal-assisted emotional therapies in Macau.

Not only did animal doctors become the major topic inside the probation centre for a week, Ms Mok said, but one of the teenagers even asked her if he could volunteer for the MAWA after being released.

The ex-chairwoman said there is a demand for animal doctors to assist with emotional therapies, but such kind of services is not widely accepted, particularly in Macau.

“Local hospitals will never let animal doctors in because they’re worried that the dogs are carrying diseases. A lot of schools also oppose the idea as they’re concerned about safety, they are worried the dogs may bite their students,” Ms Mok told the MDTimes.

However, Ms Mok said each animal doctor is accompanied by its owner during every visit and doctors as well as nurses will also be part of the visiting group.

According to the MAWA, there is no “tough requirement” for pets who want to become animal doctors.

As long as the pets have received all necessary vaccines, are at least of one year of age, are non-offensive, can get along with other animals of the same kind, are not afraid of people and also gentle, it won’t be difficult for them to become a good animal doctor, Ms Mok said.

“They are not to be trained to perform, and therefore we don’t need them to be very smart,” she added.

The MAWA is planning to submit a proposal to Macao Foundation early next year to fund a 24-hour animal rescue service and an animal ambulance in Macau.

Mr Leong said the minimum operation cost for such project will be about two million patacas each year, but added that it is a “much needed” service especially for owners who have big dogs and don’t have cars to take them to animal hospitals in case of emergency.

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