A hospital in Kentucky is reviewing their "No Pets" rule for patients after a terminal patient improved when he was allowed to see his dog.
A Huffington Post article points out that having a pet will cause you to get more exercise (I know mine does) and helps humans realize that love can be unconditional. I still remember a client who, after decades of drug use, got clean and sober but had no idea how to socialize with other people. He also had no faith that other people could be trusted in relationships. Then he rescued a dog from the local animal shelter. And joined the dog club at his apartment complex. And everything changed. As his faith in living creatures was restored by the love of his dog, his faith in the human race was restored as well. He made friends in the dog club and was welcomed back into the human race - all through the love of a dog.
And an article by NPR, cites medical studies performed 30 years ago which showed that petting your dog could lower your blood pressure. More recent studies show that interacting with animals releases oxytocin in the brain which promotes healing and the growth of new cells. Oxytocin also makes us feel happy and trusting. Another study found that heart attack patients with pets lived longer than patients without pets.
In therapy with traumatized children, animals have a calming effect. They can center and ground a child who is hypervigilant or anxious. Grieving clients will take comfort from a therapy dog and clients struggling with a substance abuse issue will often befriend a therapy dog before they are able to re-establish their broken human connections.
Service animals have been helping patients who were blind or deaf have more active lives for a long time. But we are only now beginning to realize that our pets can help us with emotional issues as well.