PARIS: “To please a dog, some patients recover forgotten abilities.” If the dog is man’s best friend, this animal could also be our therapist. Still little known to the general public, cynotherapy is gaining ground in medical centres.
With Kyra, her two-year-old dog, Charlotte Billeau leads canine mediation sessions in medical facilities in France.
“At this point, the patient no longer thinks about the therapeutic framework. Exercises that are difficult to do during a physiotherapy session, such as holding a ball, become easier to execute,” notes the professional, a psychomotor therapist by training.
According to her, motivation plays a key role at this time. In order to make the dog happy, the patient makes the required effort. The patient isn’t thinking about themselves, but responding to the animal’s needs. And these benefits can be found in other areas.
The presence of a therapy dog soothes the patient and gives them attention for a short period.
“A person in a hospital or nursing home lacks physical contact. With dogs, there is no pretence, they aren’t afraid to seek affection,” says the therapist.
A dog can also help stimulate memory, especially for people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
“You have to remember the commands to give, the name of the dog,” Charlotte Billeau points out. Other actions have a physical component, such as grooming or petting the dog, a kind of cuddle therapy.
The duration of a session varies, from 30 minutes for people suffering from Alzheimer’s to one hour for group sessions for children.
A session systematically starts with an introduction and familiarisation time for the dog and the patients.
Then, the therapist reminds the participants of the safety rules before leading exercises specific for each patient or group of patients. At the end, there is a moment for rewards.
“This allows the shyest participants to approach Kyra again and establish contact once more.”
While in France the rhythm of these sessions isn’t regulated, Charlotte Billeau doesn’t do more than two sessions per day with Kyra and keeps one day off between each day of work in order to give her time to recharge her batteries and “live her life as a dog.”