The healing power of animals

February 21, 2007

Straits Times Interactive, Mind Your Body, 21 February 2007

Many animals from dogs and cats to horses and dolphins have played a role in the healing process.

Sigmund Freud, considered by many to be the father of modern psychology, once wrote to a friend of the sympathy his dog Jofi showed him while he was undergoing cancer treatment.It would be of no surprise to Freud that today, animals are used in therapy.

Mr Charlie Ho, the co-founder of Therapy Dogs Singapore, says that ‘dogs can do much more than us to help’.

Indeed, studies are now showing that to be true.

A study conducted in the United States at the University of California, Los Angeles, last year, showed visits by dogs to be more beneficial to patients with heart failure than visits by humans alone.

Patients who were visited by a dog and human showed a 17 per cent drop in epinephrine, a hormone produced by the body when stressed, after a 12-minute visit.

Those visited by a person alone showed only a 2 per cent drop in epinephrine levels after the 12 minutes.

Mr Ho has witnessed beneficial effects first-hand when visiting nursing homes, hospices and schools with volunteers and their dogs.

He tells the story of a lonely and depressed dementia patient who, having experienced business failure and family rejection, refused to talk to anybody.

But once they got the dog to do a few tricks the man started laughing.

Ms Kwok Yee Siang, an executive director at Bethany Methodist Nursing Home, adds that ‘some residents who won’t even talk to the person in the bed next to them will talk to the dogs’.

An unhappy woman at Peacehaven Nursing Home wept one day because she was moved to the common area to meet canine visitors.

But her ‘tears turned to joy’ when a friendly dog licked her face, says Ms Angeline Ng, leader of the Singapore Kennel Club pet therapy team for the Peacehaven Nursing Home.

Dogs aren’t the only animals that can be helpful.

At Riding For The Disabled Association of Singapore (RDA), the elderly and disabled have a chance to ride horses in a safe and secure environment.

Ms Bee Wee, the head instructor, recounts how the first word a mother heard her disabled child speak was the name of the horse: Fraggle.

And while not all riders bond as effectively with their horses, the act of riding the horse imparts benefits.

‘For a kid who can’t write an essay, to control a 2,200kg animal is a huge boost of self-confidence,’ says Ms Kathleen Weidler, a former teacher who’s been volunteering with RDA since September. ‘It’s something even their parents can’t do,’ she adds.

The same effect can be seen in mentally disabled children working with dogs, says Madam Girija Nambier, a volunteer management executive for the Asian Women’s Welfare Association educational services.

Learning how to walk the dogs boosts the child’s self-confidence, she says.

Riding a horse can also be of great help to the physically disabled by improving their core strength, muscle tone, coordination and balance, says Ms Wee.

Mrs Jodi Bonnette, a 48-year-old teacher at the Singapore American School, certainly thinks so. She says her son Zachary, a 12-year-old with Angelman’s Syndrome, a rare neuro-genetic disorder, can walk much better after having done horseback riding for a few years.

‘His posture’s better, as well as his stamina,’ she says.

Although he does physiotherapy a few times a week, she thinks that the RDA ‘has been the best programme for him’.

Learning to ride a horse can also help concentration.

Ms Wee recalls how a hyperactive autistic boy, unable to stay in one place, was sitting still on a horse by the end of the fourth session.

And if nothing else, working with animals makes people happy.

As Mr Ralph Haering, a 29-year-old RDA volunteer, puts it: ‘The children come in nervous and they leave happy.’

E-mail: shelaghm@sph.com.sg

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The cat’s out of the bag

February 21, 2007

Straits Times Interactive, Mind Your Body, 21 February 2007

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Six cats under the same roof have provided a family with companionship and brought relief to a sick man. By Shelagh Mahbubani

Most people would think that six cats taken in by a loving family to be getting the better end of the deal.In fact, the Lu family feels that it’s the other way round.

The six cats that live with them have blessed them in more ways than they imaginable, said the Lus.

They are especially thankful of any blessings they have received since Mr Edgar Lu was diagnosed with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, in 1993.

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) is a disease that causes the death of nerve cells and hence the paralysis of voluntary muscles.

In 2000, Mr Lu, 54 and a former IT consultant, became completely bed ridden.

Three years later, Mr Lu and his wife Gina got their first cat, Gandalf.

Though they bought Gandalf to help their son Kevin, who was going through depression, they found that having a cat helped everybody.

The cats also help Mr Lu deal with his condition.

He is unable to move, except to smile and speak in a voice incomprehensible to everyone but those who know him. He has to be constantly under watch, as there’s a risk of him choking on his saliva.

‘Prior to the arrival of the cats, he was more focused on his own problems,’ said his wife, Mrs Lu, 47, a systems analyst.

Now, Mr Lu can watch the cats while he lies on the bed placed in the living room.

It’s very comforting to have them lie on the bed, he said through his wife’s translation.

Aside from providing emotional comfort, they even help to reduce his physical pain.

A cat lying on his hip can be more effective at relieving the pain than a hot water bottle, said the Lus.

The cats have also helped the whole family bond in a way that they couldn’t previously.

Mrs Lu said that because of her husband’s illness the family wasn’t able to spend as much time together as they wanted.

As the two sons grew older, they had less in common to talk about.

‘The cats indirectly serve as a link for the family,’ said Kevin, 20, a student at LaSalle-SIA College of the Arts.

Perhaps most important of all, the cats have helped the rest of the family get through hard times.

They really are, in their own way, members of the family.

Having Gandalf around helped Kevin get out of his depression, which hit him just around his O levels.

Gandalf is like a pal to her son, said Mrs Lu.

Kevin prefers to call Gandalf ‘an animal version of a soulmate’.

‘We understand each other,’ he added.

Both mother and son say the cats understand orders.

‘It’s uncanny,’ said Mrs Lu. For example, they will go into a room if she asks them to.

And whenever they are asked to do something they don’t like, the cats will respond with an indignant look.

And while one would think that keeping six cats in the house would create a mess, Mrs Lu said the opposite is true.

‘They’re very clean and well behaved,’ she added.

All they need is for fresh water and food to be left around the house and their litter boxes cleaned. That’s not much to ask.

GUANGZHOU, Feb. 19 (Xinhua) — South China’s Guangdong Province, the first to report fatal SARS cases in late 2002, has enhanced surveillance on civet cats, found by scientists to be a major source of the SARS virus, to prevent possible outbreaks in spring.    

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The province mobilized nearly 7,000 health inspectors in the past month and examined 10,000 restaurants for civet cats, said the Guangdong Provincial Health Department.A live civet cat and several frozen ones were confiscated and 18 restaurants were fined in the latest campaign across the province, said Huang Fei, deputy director of the department.

A restaurant in Shunde, Foshan City was fined 30,000 yuan (3,800 U.S. dollars) for buying civet cats.

The province banned raising, selling, killing and eating of civet cats in January 2004.

But “the health departments have received increasing reports of illegal trade in civet cats since November,” said Huang.

During the campaign, restaurants were required to make a written commitment on no trading of banned wild animals like civet cats.

Those who fail to keep the commitment will get their licenses revoked.

“The possibility of a SARS outbreak still exists in Guangdong in spring,” said Luo Huiming, an official with the Guangdong Disease Control and Prevention Center.

Severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, first broke out in Guangdong in November 2002 and spread to 24 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities on the Chinese mainland.

The outbreak caused alarm around the world, with infected cases reported in 32 nations and regions. The disease claimed more than 700 lives worldwide, including at least 349 on the Chinese mainland.

Source: China View

Healthy Diet Healthy Teeth

You may have something unique in common with numerous famous people including Paul McCartney, Hank Aaron, Mr Rogers and Candice Bergen. No, it’s not that you are all left-handed or snore or share a birthday. Actually, all of you chose a vegetarian lifestyle.

You might think that vegetarians are only a minority of people; however, studies show that there are over six million adults who consider themselves vegetarians.

Some might think that vegetarians are poorly nourished and unhealthy. That couldn’t be further from the truth. As with any diet, it is a matter of choosing foods that adequately nourish your body and which keep you healthy and strong. That being said, however, vegetarians need to be more cautious about the foods they eat. They need to make sure they eat foods high in iron, vitamins B12 and D, calcium, protein, iron and zinc.

For example, studies indicate that teens today drink twice as much soda—no calcium—than milk—good calcium source. Girls who consume large quantities of soda are getting maybe 800 mg calcium each day. The US Department of Agriculture recommends that teen girls get 1300 mg calcium each day. Boys who drink soda face the same health risks as girls. In fact, males 12-29 years old drink more soda than any other group according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Growing bones need a diet rich in calcium, otherwise osteoporosis, broken bones and tooth decay could be imminent.

According to the Center for Disease Control:

1-3 year olds need 550 mg calcium each day
9-18 year olds need 1300 mg calcium each day
31-50 year olds need 1 000 mg calcium each day
51-70 year olds need 1200 mg calcium each day.

The American Dietetic Association states that a vegetarian’s diet can provide adequate nutrients to have a healthy body and teeth. It is extremely important for vegetarian children to eat enough of the essential ingredients such as zinc, iron, vitamins D and B12, and calcium.

Good sources of calcium include broccoli, tofu, fortified soy milk, fortified orange juice, breads and cereals fortified with calcium yogurt, cheese & spinach.

One of the foremost victims of inadequate nourishment are your teeth. Teeth fall prey to the sugar in soda and other foods when the sugar converts to acid. The acid dissolves the calcium out of the tooth enamel; then bacteria can cause serious tooth decay.

Vegetarians can be particularly vulnerable to tooth decay if they are not including foods high in calcium in their diet. They need to carefully read food labels and count the percentage of calcium they eat each day.

To prevent periodontal disease, the Academy of General Dentistry recommends that vegetarians monitor their intake of vitamin D and calcium and consult a dentist about their diets and oral health.

I remember the days when I counted each cereal box top to know when I had enough to send away for a Captain Midnight Secret Decoder Ring. Now I have to count nutrients! All these years later I wish I still had that ring to help me understand exactly what I am buying at the grocery store. If you are like me, you ponder over each nutrition label to determine whether a product is healthy for you based on your dietary needs. How much is a serving of fruit? A slice of bread? One potato? It boggles the mind.

Consider how much more complex this head scratching gets if you have decided to embrace a vegetarian lifestyle. Not only do you need to monitor the animal products that may be lurking in that food, but you also have to be more careful to eat foods that are higher in certain nutrients such as calcium.

Source: The Nassau Guardian


Want to lose weight? Go on a vegetarian diet.

Ruben Studdard, American Idol’s winner lost 100 pounds on a vegetarian diet. Now, he is participating in a public education campaign to help citizens of Alabama to lose weight.

Read the article here.