Feel misunderstood by the whole human race? Increasingly, human emotional problems are being treated with animals, either self-administered by the patient or prescribed: in Tokyo, Japan, there are 200 pet-rental stores that hire out dogs to the lonely for ¥1,500 (US$20) an hour; at the Fort Dunlop Travelodge in Birmingham, UK, insomniacs are instructed to watch specially provided goldfish for 15 minutes before bedtime; and in Los Angeles, USA, the Birds of a Feather program gives war veterans parrots to help them cope with post-traumatic stress disorder.
At Utah State Prison, USA, a black poodle is used in group therapy sessions to help female inmates manage their anger. His name is Buck, and the prisoners love him because he “doesn’t judge them.” “We’ve learned a lot about boundaries,” inmate Crystal Linderer explained to TV station KLS.
Dolphin-assisted therapy originated as a treatment for depression in the 1970s, but is now used mainly to help children with disabilities. The Island Dolphin Care center in Florida, USA, offers a US$2,000 “5-Day Dolphin Time-Out Package” – a customized therapy program that mainly involves swimming.
Angel is a 1.5m-long corn snake who helps patients at Huntercombe Hospital, Roehampton, UK, improve their mood and sense of self-worth. Patients take turns to feed, pet and care for the snake. Hospital therapist Louise Helsdown believes that handling snakes gives patients a sense of achievement.
Infrasounds (sounds too low for the human ear) from elephants are produced by the vibrating skin on an elephant’s forehead when it blows air through its trunk. They are said to lower human blood pressure, and are used to treat anxiety and drug addiction at Thailand’s Breathing Space recovery center.
Dr. Irving is a white-faced capuchin monkey in a lab coat from Georgia, USA, where he operates therapeutic workshops alongside his handler Bobby Manheim. Course titles include “Maintaining a Positive Attitude” and “Responsibility.” Since 1996, he has worked with over 50,000 children and adults with special needs.
Made in Japan, Paro, the therapeutic robot, is a US$6,000 medical device disguised as a furry white baby seal. When patients play with it, Paro responds by blinking and making gurgling sounds. The seal design was chosen because most people have never met one, so approach Paro without prejudices.