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Power of Pets: Here's How to Get Therapy Animals for Mental Health

May is National Pet Month and National Mental Health Awareness Month. Studies have shown over the years furry companions can help reduce stress, anxiety and depression as well as improve people’s overall mental health.

Riverside County is taking a “two birds with one stone” approach by bringing two agencies together: The Departments of Animal Services and Mental Health are joining forces to get more shelter pets adopted while helping those struggling with feelings of stress and anxiety.

The Pets Assisting In Recovery (PAIR) program aims to contribute to people’s recovery, overall well-being and quality of life by using human and animal interactions, according to the county.

The two departments are providing animal-assisted therapy during which certified therapy animals can participate in group or individual sessions with patients in clinics and programs.

“We have several volunteer and staff teams that go to various mental health clinics,” Jacquie Eck, the “PAIR” program coordinator, said “They comfort clients and communities.”

One of the success stories from the program, which started in 2016, is Pepsi. The black-colored pup was adopted from the Riverside County animal shelter and trained to become a therapy dog.

Pepsi became a certified therapy dog after leaving the Riverside County shelter, officials said.

“When she came to the Riverside University Health System with us, there was a clinician who had a difficulty getting a child out of her shell. She would curl up into a little ball and hide under the chair,” Tabby Arroyo, who also works for the PAIR program, recalled. “They brought [Pepsi] in, and in the first session, you can see how the girl came out under the table. Pepsi was able to save the child.”

Pepsi continues to uplift many people across the county by visiting nursing homes and schools on a regular basis.

Equine therapy is also available for those who prefer to work with horses as part of their mental health recovery process.

It’s not just dogs and cats of different sizes that are available for adoption. The county shelter also often has adoptable livestock, such as horses and pigs.

To participate in the PAIR program, email or call 1-888-636-7387 (PETS).

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Source: NBC Los Angeles

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