Survey questions posed to Saskatchewan individuals recovering from addictions confirm the value of pet therapy as a pathway to recovery, according to University of Saskatchewan (U of S) health researcher Colleen Anne Dell.
Animal therapy is the subject of ongoing research conducted by Dell and her associates at the U of S and also the University of Regina, through a collaboration with Saskatoon Health Region treatment facilities.
A total of 86 Saskatchewan people responded to questions posted last year in a national survey conducted by the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA), with 854 people in recovery across Canada responding. Of the Saskatchewan respondents, 68.4 per cent identified their relationship with animals or pets as an important support in recovery. As well, 39.5 per cent identified their relationship with animals or pets as important to maintaining their recovery.
Dell, who is the U of S Centennial Enhancement Chair in One Health & Wellness, said Saskatoon has become a leader in Canada in exploring how animal therapy and pets can be incorporated into the treatment and recovery process.
Her research team has used visiting animals to support patients recovering from addictions at multiple locations including the Royal University Hospital emergency department, the Calder Centre, the Methadone Assisted Recovery Program, and through Mental Health and Addictions client counselling services. Tracy Muggli and Karyn Kawula, co-leaders in Mental Health and Addictions for the Saskatoon Health Region, have been involved in facilitating the program.
“Animals have a lot to offer those struggling from addiction,” said Muggli. “This is why Dr. Dell’s research has provided us with a great option to treat our clients in a new and innovative way, and we are also grateful to the funders who have helped make this work possible.”
“This program has proven to be a successful endeavor and we are pleased to have been asked to be a part of it,” said Kawula.
Dell said the collaboration with the health region is critical to the U of S research.
“Gathering evidence on what works and for whom in recovery from addictions, is essential,” she said. “It is wonderful to be able to work with people in the health care system who are willing to look at what is important to clients and respond. This is how positive change is made.”
Overall, the CCSA national survey report shows that recovery is linked to positive citizenship, including re-engagement with family, friends, the community and the workforce.
Dell, who provides subject matter expertise to the CCSA as a senior research associate and also as a member of the survey expert advisory group, said the survey results are encouraging because of the high percentage of people in recovery who see a better life ahead. In total, 91 per cent of participants in the survey reported that their quality of life was either excellent, very good, or good after recovery had been initiated—a finding that suggests hope for people living with addiction, she said.
“Our research shows how therapy animals in clinical settings can also make a difference, as can having a pet at home,” Dell said. “This is a tool that has shown to be effective and the national survey shows people in recovery recognize its value.”
To read today’s national CCSA survey press release in full, see: