Book. We all have in mind beautiful stories of friendship between animals and their masters, and even strong testimonies of sick or disabled people, whose existence has been transformed by the encounter with a dog, a horse… But, beyond Beyond that, what is the scientific data on the benefits of animals on the mental and physical health of humans? How does animal mediation work and in what ethical framework? Where are the experiences or practices in medical, prison, nursing homes or with homeless people?
To answer these questions, and many others, Laurence Paoli, communicator, former collaborator of the National Museum of Natural History, conducted a real investigation in her book When animals do us good. If the use of these singular care auxiliaries is fashionable today, it is far from recent, she says. From the end of the XVIIIand century, the English philosopher and humanist William Tuke, “appalled by the state of mental asylums”kicks things off by creating a model institution, The York Retreat, where patients have the opportunity to care for animals.
A tool for justice
It will be necessary to wait until the 1960s for the interventions of animals with patients to begin to be structured as care practices, carried in particular by the American psychologist Boris Mayer Levinson. One day when his dog is exceptionally present in his office, the therapist observes that it interacts with a boy who until then has been completely withdrawn. The animal becomes a co-therapist. Levinson writes a first article on this subject, presents it to a medical congress… under the mockery. A field of research called “human animal interactions” will soon emerge, led by researchers, health professionals and veterinarians, but also representatives of the pet industry.
In a few decades, many studies have supported the “health benefits” of four-legged companions (but not only), in certain target populations and more broadly in everyone. Laurence Paoli thus evokes a review of the scientific literature of 2019 reporting a reduced mortality rate of 24% among dog owners. The author also examines interesting animal mediation programs, in contexts as different as emergency services, prisons, universities… We discover, for example, that several French courts welcome legal assistance dogs, to accompany children or adults who are victims of aggression or violence, during their legal process. It is for the moment the Adrienne and Pierre Sommer Foundation which provides the funding, but work is underway to have the status of legal assistance dog included in the penal code.
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