Furry companions extend healing paws to humans

(Xinhua) 16:23, July 03, 2023

SHANGHAI, July 3 (Xinhua) -- When you enjoy the companionship of pets at home, have you ever thought about the more meaningful things they can do? Wu Qi, a pet trainer in his 30s, have demonstrated their immense potential, as his team has trained over 300 dogs, most of which are pets, to help humans in need.

In a support center for the elderly with cognitive disorders in Shanghai's Fengxian District, the seniors warmly greeted the adorable therapy dogs upon their arrival.

Assisted by dedicated volunteers, the dogs participated in a range of interaction and activity-based rehabilitation training. These sessions include exercises tailored to aid the elderly in muscle recovery, with some focused on enhancing communication skills and self-expression.

The elderly citizens experienced the gentle affection of the meek dogs as they rested their little heads on their palms while embracing these adorable furry companions with their arms.

"My fear of dogs has all gone. They are so cute. I've just petted and caressed a white puppy, and it even allows me to hug it," said Qi Yinfang, a 67-year-old patient suffering from mild cognitive impairment. The introduction of animal-assisted therapy services by Wu's team has had a profound impact, illuminating the spirits of people like Qi, according to the support center.

Autistic children, senior citizens with cognitive disorders, people with disabilities, or even those with mental health problems are all target clients of Wu's therapy dog team.

Over the past decade since Wu initiated the program "Paws For Heal" in 2012, such services have benefited nearly 100,000 people in major Chinese cities like Shanghai, Beijing and Nanjing.

Animal-assisted therapy (AAT) is nothing new overseas. According to a market survey conducted by Wu's team in 2018, there were already over 50,000 therapy dogs in the United States alone. However, such a therapy was still in its infancy in China at that time and Wu only had 20 professionally trained therapy dogs at his base.

Therefore, he decided to train home pets to help more people in need instead of relying merely on existing professional therapy dogs.

According to a report on China's booming pet industry released by China Pet Industry Association and Beijing Pethadoop Technology Co., Ltd. in February, last year alone, Chinese urbanites had more than 50 million pet dogs.

"I hope to reach out to the vast population of pet owners and encourage them to participate in our initiative. Their pet dogs have immense potential in making a difference and helping others," Wu said.

His team has now prepared a set of comprehensive training courses designed to enhance the pets' sociability, obedience and interactive skills, while also mitigating potential overreactions.

Many pet keepers are willing to extend their helping hand, or more accurately their "pets' chubby paws," for those in need.

Jin Pei, a 75 granny from Shanghai, is among the generous pet lovers. Her dog Biubiu is now a frequent visitor to local nursing institutions for the elderly, rehabilitation organizations for children with developmental disabilities, as well as hospitals.

"On a Christmas night, I welcomed Biubiu, a stray dog, into my home, and since then, she has become an integral part of my family. The dog healed me with its all-time companionship and support, and so I would like her to become a therapy dog and cure more people," Jin said.

(Web editor: Zhang Kaiwei, Liang Jun)


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