THE mere presence of an animal, in particular a household pet such as a cat or a dog, can help bring a smile and lift the spirit of any person.
This profound effect, called Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT), is now used worldwide for its therapeutic benefits on humans.
Animal Medical Centre (AMC) executive chairman Dr S. Siva said AAT had proven to have positive results on the elderly, the young, the sick, including the physically and mentally challenged.
"Throughout my 40-year career, I have noticed that animals, especially pets, have the ability to bring hope, calm and peace to people. AAT has shown that pets can enrich people's lives in so many ways."
Dr Siva said one of his employees, Suresh Kumar, a Down's syndrome patient, was not able to interact with people until after he was hired to work with the animal patients in the hospital.
"When he was first brought to AMC 14 years ago, Suresh was a very reserved and quiet person with an unstable temperament.
"It was difficult getting through to him as he always shut himself out.
"After he started work as a handler, however, he started communicating with the animals and had quiet conversations with them.
"Over time, Suresh became more jovial and took pride in his job," said Dr Siva.
Today, Suresh, who used to be depressed and frustrated, is a prized asset in AMC.
Suresh, 33, said he has made many four-legged friends throughout his career as a kennel technician.
"I am very happy to be around these animals. They are my truest companions who enrich our lives with unconditional love."
Dr Siva said the organisation had initiated and carried out several projects to promote AAT.
"In 2009, we created a doggie school called Canine Sportzclub which is an outdoor community school for canine training."
Another project to further the AAT programme involved the participation of welfare homes like Ti-Ratana where professional instructors from the doggie school facilitate training programmes for both underprivileged children and the rescued dogs at home.
"This dog obedience training programme has helped both the children and dogs find solace in each other.
"The children help take care of the canines, and, in return, the dogs help the children develop compassion and responsibility," said Dr Siva.