It’s no secret that animals can be calming. Especially in Singapore’s digital age, when the best way to cheer someone up is to send them a funny cat picture or silly dog video. It’s been well-documented that animals can provide emotional and physical health benefits for humans, whether through diversion, comfort or reducing stress. They can even train YOU to perform rehabilitative behaviours such as throwing a ball for a dog to fetch or feeding your pet regularly!
Children especially can benefit from animal interaction and Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT). But if you’re looking for a therapy pet to keep in the home, it’s not super helpful to rush out to the store to grab the first doggo you set your eyes on. There’s lots to consider when getting a pet. Animals require as much care and attention as children, and if their personality doesn’t match your child’s, they might not be a good fit. What’s worse is that if the dog is a bit too barky, the hamster too fearful or the cat too aloof, kids (and you) can become stressed out. We’ve found therapy animals that kids in Singapore can meet and hang out with, but if you’re seriously thinking about getting your own therapy pet, we recommend finding one that suits your child’s needs and to have a back-up plan if the relationship doesn’t work out. Here’s our roundup of the places offering AAT, and some ideas on pets that can make great therapy pets of your own…
Dogs aren’t just man’s best friend, they make pretty good therapists too. But believe it or not, not all dogs like to cuddle! Often, therapy dogs need to be trained from young and must be friendly, well-behaved, patient and, of course, love people. It can be pretty difficult to find a dog that suits your child’s needs right off the bat but there are organisations that conduct Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) programmes in special needs schools, nursing homes and health institutions. Pawsibility runs AAT programmes as well as holiday camps for kids to spend the week frolicking about with dogs. This also helps dogs to be more comfortable around humans. You can even volunteer your own dog at organisations like Therapy Dogs Singapore and SOSD’s Healing Paws programme to share the puppy love.
Cats can be quite independent but lots of them still love lots of attention and affection. They’re willful, playful and if they choose to adopt you, you’re set for life. Some organisations that provide Animal Assisted Activities (AAA) with cats include Cat Assisted Therapy Singapore and Love Kuching Project. There’s also Cat Safari to check out at Turf Club Road, where you can grab a bite to eat at the nearby Ah B Cafe (pet-friendly!) after cuddling some kitties.
Birds are surprisingly affectionate and clean, despite all those feathers. They do appreciate a cuddle from time to time and don’t take up a lot of space. Apart from saying “Hello”, they’re pretty intelligent and can be trained to perch on your shoulder for a bit of bonding. Some birds that make good pets are parakeets, budgies, parrots and cockatiels. There aren’t any AAT programmes for birds in Singapore but you can head to Kebun Baru and relax on a bench for a spot of bird-singing – a great way to calm the mind and feel some peace wash over you and the kids.
Small animals like hamsters and gerbils are super cute and low maintenance but they are also often prey animals that startle easily. Because of their alert nature, they’re not particularly cuddly, but if you raise them from young there’s a higher chance of them warming up to your little one. If they’ve been tamed, they can even be carried around in pockets with their little noses poking out. We don’t personally recommend it because of potential problems like running away and messes. You can try to stroke them with your second and middle finger but very slowly and gently so as not to startle them. Head to one of the many farms around Singapore to give them a pet or the petting zoo at Singapore Zoo, which is well worth a visit for farm animals of all sizes.
If you’re not too squeamish, reptiles like snakes, lizards and geckos make awesome therapy animals too. They have long lifespans, beautiful colouring and can even be trained to detect emotional discomfort. There aren’t any services which offer reptile therapy but they make great pets. However, reptiles can be pretty fiddly creatures and do require specialised care. Beginners should start off with bearded dragons and leopard geckos as they’re not so fussy and are easy to maintain. Snakes are a little more tricky but there are plenty of non-venomous snakes that make good pets like corn snakes. Do bear in mind that these reptiles will need to eat some pretty wriggly creatures like mice, locusts and worms which you may need to feed them…alive.
Did you know horses can be used for therapy? Other than providing an emotional bond with children, horses also benefit disabled children. Although you won’t be able to take them home, Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA) train horses to provide equine-assisted therapy for all types of disabilities. Beneficiaries will be able to experience better balance and coordination in addition to emotional comfort and self-confidence when they get to ride or care for a horse. Equine-assisted therapy is hugely popular though, so prepare for a wait of around to nine to 12 months. RDA is hosting a Walk-a-Wheelathon on 30 September, so head down for more info on equine-assisted therapy, as well as a carnival and adoption drive!
Top image: Photography by Alicia Jones via Unsplash
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