Guest Articles

Zoomobile Therapy: Visiting Animals Promote Healing


The topic for this Guest Post Exchange is animals and healing. 

GUEST BLOGGER Sarah Valley Allen writes about animals and the many ways service and companion animals play a role in healing. Her blog, Animals Help Heal  is packed with inspiring and uplifting articles and great photos of all sorts of animals. She lists Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT), Animal Assisted Activity (AAA), and Hippotherapy (physical therapy involving horses) among her favorite subjects, so it’s not surprising to read of her plan to incorporate animal therapy into her practice after she completes her physical therapy doctorate program. Today, she tells AltMedForYou readers how she learned about the healing power of animals. (And my topic for her blog is alternative medicine for animals.)


Zoomobile Therapy clip_image001

For a little over four years, I was the Zoomobile Coordinator at the Audubon Zoo. This meant that I took animals from the zoo’s education collection to visit schools, nursing homes, libraries and hospitals.  In doing so, I learned about the healing power of animals.

We had a standing monthly engagement at each of the three hospitals in town. The visits were set up by the hospital Child Life departments so our visits were for the children.  Usually we’d do a show in the play room for the kids who were well enough to attend and then we’d do room visits for the others.

imageIt was on one such visit that I met a little girl who was not happy at all. When we first went into her room, she did NOT want to see the animals, but I wasn’t going to go away so easily. I introduced her to Daisy Duke, an African Pygmy hedgehog. Suddenly there was a complete change in her attitude. She began to smile and even laugh as Daisy poked her nose out from her rolled up body. The little girl’s parents were thrilled, as were the nurses. This was this the first time that she smiled since she arrived at the hospital and it was the first time the nurses were able to give her a shot without a big fight. This prickly little creature had somehow calmed her down and allowed healing to take place.

When I visited nursing homes, I liked to take animals like chickens, rabbits, snakes and turtles; animals that the residents might remember having when they were younger. Often I’d hear stories about their animals and how it was their job to collect the eggs or how the rooster used to terrorize them so much they didn’t go in their own backyards. The animals also gave the residents common ground to talk about with each other so instead of being isolated and depressed, they felt like a part of a community of animal lovers. I’ve been back to some of those nursing homes and the friendships that started with the Zoomobile visit are still going strong.

imageOne specific nursing home visit was especially memorable. I was about to bring out a snake, so I warned the residents, as I always do, “I’m going to take out a snake, but don’t worry I’ll have a good hold of it and you don’t have to touch it if you don’t want to.” As I pulled Eden, the ball python, out of the bag she travelled in, there was a commotion in the back of the room. I quickly apologized for scaring anyone, thinking that maybe I  hadn’t said my warning loud enough for those in the back to hear. I talked about the snake a bit and then started walking around the room with her so the residents who wanted to could touch her. One gentleman was particularly interested in stroking the snake. As he was finishing, the staff came to me and said, “He was the one that made all the noise when you took the snake out.” I was confused because he hadn’t seemed afraid of the snake. Then they told me that up until that point they had thought the man was mute because he had not spoken a word the entire time he had been there. But somehow seeing that snake motivated him to communicate for the first time in years.


Experiences like these are what inspired me to go back to school. I just finished the first year of my Doctorate of Physical Therapy program and I plan on integrating animals into my practice once I graduate. Animals are amazing healers and motivators. Many people will get out of bed to care for their pet when they otherwise wouldn’t get up. Taking your dog for a walk gets you out of the house and moving. Nuzzling a furry animal is calming, lowering your blood pressure. The benefits are limitless!



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© 2012 by Sarah Valley Allen, all rights reserved


Dr. Andrew Weil’s “Spontaneous Happiness” works for Jackie Dishner


Today brings several firsts for AltMedForYou – our first guest post, first book review, and first exchange of posts between blogs. We begin with our guest’s great review of a book by a giant in the field of alternative medicine. I hope you’ll enjoy this review as much as I did and I encourage you to visit the writer’s blog often. (You’ll find my article about positive visualization posted there today.)


GUEST BLOGGER  Jackie Dishner, author of BACKROADS & BYWAYS OF ARIZONA, is a freelance writer who specializes in design, self-help and travel. She writes for consumer magazines, trade publications and websites. She blogs at BIKE WITH JACKIE, where she posts inspirational messages and discusses her BIKE philosophy and its mind-body connection, which can lead you to spontaneous happiness, a topic Dr. Andrew Weil recently wrote about in his latest book. Jackie has the review for you here.

Spontaneous Happiness

By Andrew Weil, MD

282 pp. Little, Brown and Company, $27.99


If you think being a happy person means you have to smile 24/7, you can relax. In Spontaneous Happiness, Dr. Andrew Weil, one of the founders of integrative medicine and a professor at the University of Arizona in Tucson dissolves that fallacy.


Spontaneous happiness, he says is more about finding that middle ground, that sense of contentment, serenity, comfort, balance and resilience. You won’t have all of this all the time, and you don’t have to. Are you relieved?


You should be. In his book about happiness, the New York Times bestselling author – he’s written 12 books that deal with some form of integrative medicine – shares his theory about how you can achieve this emotional well-being.


Starting with his thoughts about why people are so depressed – Do you realize 1 in 10 of us here in the U.S., including our children, take one or more antidepressant drugs and that the World Health Organization predicts that by 2030 more people worldwide will be affected by depression than any other health condition? – Dr. Weil’s book goes on to offer solutions for your unhappiness. His prerogative would be that you make a few lifestyle changes, as opposed to filling another prescription. Yet, he doesn’t fully discount medication for those with extreme mental health issues, such as bi-polar disorder.



But he doesn’t hold back, either, when it comes to suggesting a depression epidemic is taking place that might have in fact been manufactured. Pharmaceutical companies, the big insurers, and corporate healthcare prosper and have huge incentive to keep the epidemic growing. More than 164 million antidepressant prescriptions were written in 2008, worth $9.6 billion in U.S. sales, he writes.


Dr. Weil cites various research and includes interviews with other integrative or alternative medicine practitioners. One, a Native American healer, says something as simple as gathering a circle of friends for support and prayer can do wonders for all dimensions of the human experience: physical, mental, social and spiritual.  


Among the many informative points, Dr. Weil addresses how physical disease can be tied to your emotions, the critical importance of physical activity, the importance of touch, and he also mentions visualization, breathe work, and his concern that technology is socially isolating us from each other.


The part I like best about this book is the “8-week Program for Optimal Well-Being” he walks you through at the end. After explaining the various types of alternative therapies you can do to connect with your own sense of contentment, serenity, comfort, balance and resilience, he gives you a plan to see it through. The program requires you to answer a lot of questions each week about your general health and lifestyle, followed by some very specific tasks to take care of your body, mind and spirit. His point is to get you to connect with where you really are in life right now so you can get where you really want to be.


Clearly, spontaneous happiness doesn’t happen overnight.


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© 2012 by Jackie Dishner, all rights reserved.