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Human beings have been observing, hunting, using, and bonding with animals since prehistoric times. The world’s oldest known paintings, drawn by unknown artists on the walls of the Chauvet cave in France more than 30,000 years ago, depict horses, rhinoceroses, lions, buffalo, and mammoths in remarkable detail. Of all the subjects that could have been cho- sen, it was animals that were important enough to be repre- sented by the painstaking work of ancient artists. Animals have always made people feel better or stronger in many ways, but no one knows precisely when they were first used for therapeutic purposes, to heal human illness. Some people may have thought of animals this way from the very beginning of time. An account from the 9th century in Gheel, Belgium, mentions animals being included in what was called “therapie naturelle.” This was a progres- sive community program through which local citizens cared for handicapped people. Household pets and farm animals played a central part in the program. In the 1700s, horses were being used to treat various diseases, though detailed accounts of early “hippotherapy” are scarce. Even back then, however, people with neurological disor- ders achieved better balance and enhanced motor abilities through horseback riding. The first specific reports of animal-assisted therapy (AAT) came from the York Retreat, founded in England in 1792 by the Society of Friends, or Quakers. This institution for people with severe mental health problems was based on the idea that animals would enhance the “humanity” of the emotionally ill. Patients were treated with kindness and respect—a revolutionary idea at the time—and were encouraged to care for rabbits, chickens, and other farm animals. It was believed that people who seemed “out of control” could develop self-control by caring for creatures that were weaker than themselves. During the Victorian Era of the mid- to late 1800s, pub- lic criticism of the appalling conditions in asylums and prisons led to a wider use of pets as part of an effort to humanize these institutions. In 1860, famous British nurse Florence Nightingale observed that a small pet “is often an excellent companion for the sick, for long chronic cases especially.” In 1867, pets played a role in the treatment of epileptics at Bethel, in Bielefeld, Germany. In the United States, the first recorded use of animals in therapy occurred in 1942 at an Army Air Corps Convales- cent Hospital in Pawling, New York. Animals were found to provide health benefits that other forms of medical treat- ment could not.

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