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College of Human Ecology

K-State Specialist: Expect more pets, including service and therapy dogs

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

MANHATTAN, Kan. - Although long described as "man´s best friend," in reality, dogs may become almost anyone´s friend, said Deb Sellers, Kansas State University Research and Extension specialist on adult development and aging.

The American Pet Products Manufacturers Association reports that 63 percent of the nation´s households already have a pet, with dogs the preferred pet. But, Sellers expects the pet population and need for both service and therapy dogs to increase as baby boomers age.

In predicting the increase, Sellers said that in 1900, 4 percent of America´s population was age 65 or older. In 2004, 12.4 percent of the U.S. population was age 65 and older. By 2030, however, 20 percent - one in five Americans - is expected to be age 65 and older.

In a study by James A. Serpell, section chief for behavior and human-animal interactions in the University of Pennsylvania´s School of Veterinary Medicine, dog owners reported decreases in minor health concerns, Sellers said.

"For some, simply petting a dog can lower blood pressure and ease stress," she said.

Studies also have found that developing a relationship with a loyal, companionable pet is beneficial for nursing home residents and older adults living in retirement communities, she said.

If nothing else, a relationship with a pet can stimulate activities that ease loneliness.

A dog trained as a service or therapy dog also can fill a special need for older adults and others who may be limited by a disability or medical condition, Sellers said.

The two are not the same, however.

Sellers, a gerontologist who is experienced in working with a therapy dog, explains the difference:

* A service dog, such as a seeing-eye dog, is a dog trained to provide a specific service. A trained seizure dog can, for example, detect a seizure before it occurs and alert its owner.

* A therapy dog may assist a social worker, physical therapist or other health services professional in helping to motivate a patient.

Sellers offered this example: A physical therapist encourages a patient recovering from a broken hip to walk a short distance. The walk is painful, and the patient lacking in enthusiasm for this part of the recovery process.

If the therapist suggests, "Let´s take Jeb (a therapy dog) for a walk," however, that can encourage the physical activity important to the rehabilitation process. It also can help soothe a patient´s nerves, relieve anxiety, and take the patient´s mind off the pain.

While service and therapy dogs fulfill a specific role, pets such as a cat or goldfish can ease the focus on oneself and the losses - family, friends or lifestyle - that accompany aging.

To learn more about the role that pets can play in easing the aging process, interested persons may contact Sellers at 785-532-5773.

K-State Research and Extension is a short name for the Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service, a program designed to generate and distribute useful knowledge for the well-being of Kansans. Supported by county, state, federal and private funds, the program has county Extension offices, experiment fields, area Extension offices and regional research centers statewide. Its headquarters is on the K-State campus in Manhattan.

Story by:
Nancy Peterson
K-State Research and Extension

For more information:
Deb Sellers is at 785-532-5773 or dsellers@.ksu.edu

This article was posted on Tuesday, March 13, 2007, and is filed under College News, Family Studies & Human Services.