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By Courtney Scott For people who do not thrive in traditional therapy, animals can be used in place of psychiatrists as a form of “natural therapy.” People often have pets as emotional support animals, but Jaime Arnett, Animals as Natural Therapy grant writer, said some people discredit this. “Not everyone believes in the validity of human interactions with animals,” Arnett said. Animals as Natural Therapy is a non-profit in Bellingham that has been in business since 1999 and seeks to help people, especially at-risk youth, heal and grow by interacting with animals. The National Institute of Health confirmed that interacting with animals can reduce stress and blood pressure. Studies by the National Institute of Health have found this type of interaction decreases loneliness and can boost your mood. “Petting fur for five minutes can lower heart rate and reduce stress,” Arnett said.

Violet, an ESA guinea pig. // Photo courtesy of Amy Williams
While animals provide support for people, it is important to learn how to properly interact with them and care for them. Kelsey Forbes, an employee at Whatcom Humane Society involved with their humane education programs, teaches people the skills needed to be a pet owner. “Animals enter shelters without the owners doing their homework,” Forbes said. “Often it is simply impulse buying. In humane education, we teach children about safety and the hard work that goes into having a pet.” Animals as Natural Therapy also work with veterans, people struggling with addiction and schools. “This form of therapy may be better for some people because animals are non-judgmental listeners and it can be really healing for people,”Arnett said. Maddie Rayburn, a third-year at Western, agrees that animals improve her mood and are good at distracting her from stress. “I think people downplay their effectiveness. But, they are also a lot of work and can be time consuming,” Rayburn said. Goat yoga has gained popularity in the last few years and this may be attributed to the health benefits. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said animals can help encourage people to exercise and decrease cholesterol levels. Rayburn said that Bellingham would be a great place for goat yoga. “A lot of people do yoga in Bellingham and they are always willing to try new and weird things,” Rayburn said. Animals as Natural Therapy recently asked if people would be interested in goat yoga on Facebook and were surprised by the overwhelming positive answers. “Goat yoga is a very kitsch thing and I think people also just want to connect to nature,” Arnett said. Whether it is goat yoga or a cat café, animals will continue captivating attention because they make our lives better. “Twenty years ago, we didn’t know why miracles were happening in the barn,” Arnett said. “But it was the animals.”

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