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Americans love animals. In fact, the rate of pet own- ership in the United States is four times higher than that in Europe, and five times higher than that in Japan. In study after study, Americans reveal their deep attachment to their animals, with up to 90% of pet owners claiming that their pet is “extremely important” to them, and close to 80% identifying a pet as their closest companion. Animal images are everywhere: in art, literature, music, food, language, and religion. They fill our imagination and our dreams. According to a 1983 study, up to 57% of the dreams of 4-year-old boys involve animals. Now more than ever, animals are a major focus of scientists and health care workers. Domestic animals and livestock are now recognized as a potential “early warning system” against the post–9/11 threat of bioterrorism. In the emerging field of animal- assisted therapy, some animals have a new role to play—“prescription medicine” to cure a long list of human ills. Animal therapists, like all professionals, have spe- cific tools that help them do their work. But unlike most science-related professions, in animal-assisted therapy, the main tool is a living, breathing creature. It doesn’t live in a laboratory or a test tube, but more often in a kennel, a stable, or someone’s home, and it probably has a name and personality all its own.

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