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Local study finds scientific proof of the benefits of emotional support animals for people with chronic mental illness

It’s part of the Hope and Recovery Pets Program.
Published: Jun. 28, 2021 at 4:51 PM EDT
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TOLEDO, Ohio (WTVG) - It’s a program that’s changed a lot of lives in our area, both people and animals. It’s called the Hope and Recovery Pets Program, or HARP.

The research that went along with it found evidence that emotional support animals benefit those with chronic mental illness.

The program pairs shelter animals with people who are living with chronic mental health issues that affect their daily lives, including depression and anxiety. There’s also a research component to the program.

Dr. Janet Hoy-Gerlach is a Professor of Social Work at The University of Toledo and the lead author of the research.

“There’s a lot of research on pets showing their emotional and physical benefits for people, but this is the first published, peer-reviewed study, looking specifically at emotional support animals. This is a game-changer, and that energizes me. I hope this work inspires more research across the board.”

Hoy-Gerlach says the study involved monitoring people over the course of a year. It included testing before, during, and after the year was up.

“We saw a significant reduction in things like anxiety, depression, and loneliness.”

HARP is a collaboration between UT, ProMedica, and the Toledo Humane Society.

“What could be better than connecting homeless animals that had nobody to people who needed that somebody? The people are changing their lives while changing the lives of the animals,” said Abbey Hall, the Development Manager at the shelter. “It’s amazing to see it all come around. We are proud to be part of the HARP program.”

Lesley Brooks says she’s lived with depression since she was a teenager.

“If you’re a pet lover, you already know that they are good for you. But to have that validated through this research is really good,” said Brooks.

Brooks adopted a cat through the program.

“She gives me purpose each day, a reason to get up and get going.”

Hoy-Gerlach hopes the research helps make emotional support animals an intentional part of treatment moving forward.

“It’s made me even more passionate about showing how animals can be a partner in our health and well-being.”

The study portion of HARP is over, but the adoption part is not. You can still adopt an emotional support animal through HARP. You’ll need a referral from your health care provider to get the process started.

According to Dr. Hoy-Gerlach, emotional support animals need no formal training or certification but are recognized in writing by a health or mental healthcare professional as therapeutically needed for a person with a health or mental health condition. The person’s condition must meet the definition of a disability under the Fair Housing Act, a federal housing policy that protects against disability-related housing discrimination.

You can call (567) 585-7426 to learn more or check out the HARP Facebook page. If you’d like to learn more about making a donation to the program or volunteering, click on this link.

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