The health benefits of Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT)
The link between humans and animals, providing health benefits to the mind, body and spirit are well documented.  The role that animals play to create optimal healing environments is known as animal assisted therapy, and normally refers to the use of dogs and cats, but fish and guinea pigs have also been successful. The bond that forms induces relaxation by reducing cardiovascular reactivity to stress.
In each therapy case, the animal was either owned by the patient, or took part in visits. During visits, patients would show significant decreases in blood pressure, artery pressure and anxiety. AAT has been associated with slowed respiratory rate, lower temperature and reduced pain. These are all brought about as a result of a response of relaxation or distraction from their pain or situation. 
Dawn Marcus and colleagues  conducted a study at an outpatient clinic, with patients sitting in a waiting room or in a room with a therapy dog in it. It was found that there were significant improvements in pain, mood, and other distressful measures in the room with the therapy dog. The study took place over a two month period and its findings have encouraged many nursing homes and hospitals to elicit the help of cats and dogs as a comfort for patients in their time of need.
Paws for People® Therapy Dogs was founded in 1997 by Lesley de Klerk. It is a South African based non-profit organisation that currently offers Animal Assisted Therapy and Animal Assisted Activity programs in Gauteng, Free State and KwaZulu Natal and has a sister unit in Cape Town, called Paw Pals. They are available at Paws for People or Paw Pals, and their mission is to make a positive difference in the lives of the patients, residents and children with whom they interact during the course of the various programs that they support.
- Griffin JA, McCune S, Maholmes V, Hurley K (2011). Human-animal interaction research: An introduction to issues and topics. In McCardle P, McCune S, Griffin JA & Maholmes V (Eds.). How animals affect us (pp. 3-9). Washington D.C.: American Psychological Association.
- Stoffel J, Braun C. Animal-assisted therapy: analysis of patient testimonials. J Undergrad Nurs Scholarsh. 2006; 8(1).
- Marcus, Dawn; Berstein, C.; Constantin, J.M.; Kunkel, F.A.; Breuer, P.; Hanlon, R. (2012). “Animal-assisted therapy at an Outpatient Pain management clinic”. Pain Medicine 13 (1): 45–57