When Pigs Fly? Pet Therapy Animals no Longer Just Dogs

You’ve probably heard the expression, “When pigs fly.” Umm, now they can. And, miniature horses can too. So can monkeys, dogs, cats, and all sorts of other “emotional support” animals. Daniel, a certified emotional support duck, made news on a recent flight, traveling with his human companion who had a fear of flying. As it turns out, pets are a great source of comfort and therapy for a lot of us.

The use of emotional support animals is not without controversy. Believe it or not, some airplane passengers may not be too excited sharing their arm rest with Hamlet the pig, Gizmo the marmoset, a turkey, kangaroo, or some other furry or feathered friend. Needless to say, there continues to be discussion about where they’re allowed and under what conditions.

Still think you need to bring your pet dog, cat, or hedgehog along for support on your next flight? The process starts with supporting documentation from a licensed mental health professional stating that you’re emotionally disabled. Then you’ll follow steps to legally qualify them as an emotional support animal.

Pet Therapy - A Healthier Upstate Pet Therapy - A Healthier Upstate

Does the dog make house calls?

It turns out that “man’s best friend” may be one of man’s best weapons against depression.

Picture yourself in the hospital recovering from an injury. You’re feeling a little bit depressed. All of a sudden, in walks a dog and their handler. You’re a little thrown off at first, but you go along with it. “What’s his name?” you ask. “It’s Buddy.” you’re told. “He’s a therapy dog.” Buddy sits down next to you, patiently looking up. You instinctually start petting him. After a few minutes, you start feeling a little bit less anxious “So, how often does Buddy come around?” you ask. Before you know it, you and Buddy are…well…“buddies.” Just like Humphrey Bogart said in the classic movie Casablanca , “This could be the start of a beautiful friendship.”

Cats are good listeners too.

Lollypop Farm, the Humane Society of Greater Rochester, NY, provides shelter for homeless or abused animals and programs to help pets. They also feature pet assisted therapy programs, including Reading Education Assistance Dogs (R.E.A.D) where registered therapy animals (along with their owner/handler) visit schools and libraries to help kids struggling with their confidence.

Their Book Buddies program also gives kids the chance to read their favorite books while cozying up to attentive cats waiting for new homes. “These programs provide goodwill within the community,” said Kim Gandy, Lollypop Farm Board Member. “Animals always seem to understand what is going on and provide comfort.” It’s also a great way to find a home for your new furry friends.

Pet therapy has a role in all phases of life

Pet therapy is a broad term that includes animal-assisted therapy and other animal-assisted activities. It’s a growing field that uses dogs, along with other animals, to help people recover from or better cope with health problems, such as heart disease, cancer and mental health disorders. Several studies have reported that interacting with therapy animals produced beneficial results.

Sure, pets are great companions. But studies show that they can make us healthier. Interacting with an animal—playing, caring, or just petting it—has positive effects on us, from creating a sense of calm to providing a sense of purpose. It may also be a reason for an increasing use of animals — dogs and cats mostly, but also birds, rabbits, fish and even horses — in settings ranging from hospitals and nursing homes to schools, jails and mental institutions.

Many hospice organizations use animal companionship as a form of therapy. Pet therapy in the hospice setting uses the natural bond between humans and animals to provide comfort, peace, and soothing companionship to terminally ill patients. There are many physical and emotional benefits brought to those facing their end-of-life journey. Last year, the Today Show featured a story that went viral about JJ the hospice therapy dog who consoled a patient nearing the end of their life. These interactions can help reduce feelings of loneliness and depression and lessen levels of anxiety.

So, where’s it all headed?

There’s been a lot of attention lately about those ducks and pigs on airplanes, but  the health benefits of pets do help humans overcome, or at least cope with, health problems (both physical and emotional).

Early research has shown that equine therapy (interaction with horses) improves symptoms in Alzheimer’s patients. Other research has found a reduction in anxiety and depression in those with Alzheimer’s.

The bottom line is that more study and data are needed before more many health professionals regularly recommend it as an alternate form of therapy. For now, anecdotal benefits include increased self-esteem, improved mental health, better social skills and increased empathy and nurturing skills for many who have used it.

So if you’re ever sharing an armrest on a flight with Buddy, Hamlet or Daniel, rest assured that pigs (monkeys, ducks and other animals) really can fly.

Joseph Anthony

Joseph Anthony

A western New York native, Joe has been a marketing communications manager at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield for over 10 years. His interests include travel, wine, classic film, hiking and sports. He grew up in the city of Rochester and currently resides with his family in Greece, Monroe County.
Joseph Anthony

7 thoughts on “When Pigs Fly? Pet Therapy Animals no Longer Just Dogs

  1. Dudley says:

    I am allergic to cats so who’s comfort comes first? I’ll be damned if I have to sit next to some flea bitten stinky cat.

  2. Florian says:

    So what about the people who have allergies? Nuts are off the plane so not to offend people with allergies and now you put animals on board and not concerned mental problems. Looks like ons sided to me.

    • Jul says:

      Also agree, I do NOT want to sit next to someone with an animal, maybe airlines need to designate the back of the plane like they did years ago for smokers!

  3. An says:

    I agree with both Dudley and Florian, And I recently took my little maltipoo Peppe on a American Flight with signed docs and good for a year. Traveling can be very stressful and he really helps keep me calm and focused. Stress equals frustration then can escalade.
    Not everyone NEEDS to travel with their pets unless they pay for a seat of there own and are properly crated.

  4. M says:

    My son is allergic and animals cause asthma, nothing like ruining his next few weeks health wise because you need to bring your pet, sorry I agree they should be put in the back of the plane, or not at all. No smoking due to health, no pets due to health.

  5. Donna Hastings says:

    I totally agree with the folks who think pets on planes is going too far. I have been subjected to flying with a puppy behind me and it was not a good trip. I am allergic to both cats and dogs. My ability to breathe should trump someone’s desire to be accompanied by their comfort animal. I have also observed pet owners in airports who think the rules about keeping their animals in the carriers while in the lounge areas simply don’t apply to them. The back of the plane may not be a good enough solutions. Perhaps some flights could be designated as pet flights and all other flights would be pet free.

  6. Jan says:

    wow, really. The benefits of animal of received glowing reviews from many different areas of the medical industry. I agree a consideration of those with allergies need to be considered and accomidated, but lets not use allergies has an excuse if not valid because someone does not like animals.

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