When home care recipient Barbara Hampson celebrated her 96th birthday she was thrilled to get a surprise visit from a piglet.

In-home care specialist Silver Chain, which offers animal therapy as part of its allied health services, says it’s an example of how effective animal therapy can be for some clients.

Ms Hampson first contacted Silver Chain because she wanted to walk to the movies and improve her balance to reduce the risk of falls.

Therapy assistant Leah Smith began working with Ms Hampson three times a week and soon learnt about her love for pigs and other animals.

Ms Hampson cared for them on her Bindoon hobby farm in Western Australia for nine years after retiring from her job; she had four piglets and 25 sheep.

Leah Smith with Barbara Hampson (Image supplied)

So Ms Smith thought it would be a great idea to arrange the surprise visit from Rosco the piglet for Ms Hampson’s birthday.

“Barbara has made such great progress, not only with how well she’s moving again, but it’s given her a new lease on life and she’s now engaged with her community again,” Ms Smith said.

“Being able to arrange the piglet to visit was just the icing on the cake for Barbara’s birthday, as she knows better than anyone the health benefits of bonding with an animal.”

Ms Hampson described it as one of her best birthdays.

“I love company, particularly from animals. Meeting Rosco brings back memories of my own piglets,” she said.  

Many benefits

Kathryn Deveraux, Silver Chain Allied Health Manager, says animal therapy has many benefits.

“The responsibility of an animal can make someone move more and do functional activities that would otherwise deteriorate due to inactivity,” she told Community Care Review.

Kathryn Devereux

“An animal may make someone feel needed and comforted, they offer companionship and unconditional love.

“Animals can have a soothing effect that increases comfort levels and decreases stress, which enhances communication.”

However, animals aren’t for everyone, she said, because some people have allergies, negative past experiences or may be immunocompromised.

Choosing the right animal

To decide on a suitable animal for therapy sessions, Silver Chain staff listens to clients to discover their motivations, what they’ve loved in the past and what they miss.

“From their conversations they can identify activities or therapies to assist the person live their best life,” Ms Deveraux said.

“Help dogs are the best known but as in the case of this story, pigs were found to trigger positive memories and stories.”

Ms Deveraux says research has shown that people with pets or who interact with pets are generally healthier than non-pet owners.

“This can be for a number of reasons – increase of physical exercise, socialisation and improvement in mental function,” she said.

“Spending time with pets is shown to lower cholesterol and blood pressure and results in decreased visits to the doctor.”

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