The Cutest Therapy Animals & How They Help Others

Animals are amazing creatures. They make us laugh, bring us joy, and are there for us when we’re down. But some animals are in a league of their own. They go above and beyond caring for their humans by providing services. These therapy dogs, cats, and others help the sick, elderly and those who need them most. Get to know some of the most amazing therapy animals on the planet…

Oscar The Cat Soothes Patients Before They Die


One of the world’s most famous therapy cats is named Oscar. He volunteers at the Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Providence, R.I. It’s believed that he predicted the deaths of about 100 people at the nursing home. Oscar is generally antisocial. However, he tends to cuddle up with people during their final days. Neither the staff nor doctors know how he has the ability to seek people out and give them comfort and support during their final moments. Yet somehow he spots terminally ill patients and gives them the love they need. He was featured in an article in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2007.

Potbellied Pig Buttercup Helps Kids With Autism


This is a miniature Vietnamese pot-bellied pig named Buttercup, who helps kids who have autism improve their social skills. She visits special-needs children in schools in San Francisco, Calif., with her owner, a speech pathologist named Lois Brady. They help people between the ages of six and 22. Some autistic children are scared of dogs, so Brady decided they may be more comfortable with a pig. She explained: “He’s so visually curious to them that they’re immediately drawn to Buttercup. Kids who can’t remember how to spell their own name remember everything about him, from where he sleeps to how many siblings he has.”

Roast Beef The Penguin Dazzles Patients At Nursing Homes


An African penguin named Roast Beef is known for appearing at community events that largely involve young people. But he started visiting nursing homes in 2012, stopping by the Hannah Duston Rehabilitation Center in Haverhill, Mass. He absolutely entranced the staff, visitors and his own handlers. “Upon leaving, our penguin biologist ran into a person who has both parents [in the nursing home] for Alzheimer’s,” explained Tony LaCasse, a spokesman for the New England Aquarium where Roast Beef resides. “That person told the biologist, ‘I saw a sparkle in my parents’ eyes that I haven’t seen in a long, long time.’”

Spartacus Helped Kids Following The Sandy Hook Tragedy


Brad Cole has an Akita named Spartacus. Following the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., Akita was one of the first responders. The pair spent time at a nearby church in case anyone needed their assistance. “Therapy dogs help lessen anxiety, blood pressure,” Cole said. “They help a person decompress, in some cases just distract for the moment, help them to forget where they are for that brief second of what’s happening. And if they’re an animal lover they’ll get a little bit more attached, they’ll scratch, and they’ll cuddle with the dog, and just kind of help them defuse.”

This Bonded Pair Of Bunnies Cheer Up The Elderly


The charity group Bunnies In Baskets (BIB) has been around since 2009 and helps give people “positive emotional/physical experiences through visits with highly socialized, ‘human curious,’ and affectionate rabbits.” Volunteers visit with either one rabbit or a “bonded pair” of rabbits to help those who may feel lonely and/or need a little contact with a furry animal to cheer them up. Americans and Canadians can be trained to become a member of the Visiting Rabbit Team (VRT). All bunnies must pass a veterinarian health evaluation and are continually monitored to make sure they’re in tip-top shape to do their job.

Dexter Visits Many Patients, Including Those In Hospice


Therapy cats are used for various reasons. They can help stroke victims and kids who have problems with language and hearing. They can also reduce blood pressure and lower a person’s anxiety. Dexter is a certified therapy cat of which there are only 200 in the United States. He visits people with the help of his human partner, Wendy. It’s not uncommon for Dexter to visit people in hospice. He often wears a harness and helps those who are terminally ill before they pass on. He visits various places wherever there is a need for his kind and caring personality.

Hector Proved Pit Bulls Can Be Loving Too


Hector was a pit bull, a breed that some people think are prone to violence. Hector was rescued from NFL star Michael Vick’s dogfighting ring in 2007. Even though he had endured a lot of abuse, he didn’t have problems with aggression. In fact, he was so loving that his human companions decided to turn him into a therapy dog. He made many appearances to raise awareness about the breed and let others know that not all pit bulls are bad. His motto: “Dogs deserve a chance regardless of what they look like.” He passed away in 2014.

Kids Love Ozzy The Alpaca


Ozzy the therapeutic alpaca is from Ontario, Canada. He visits people in need with Nancy Hutchinson, his owner and an animal-assisted therapist. Unlike most alpacas, Ozzy doesn’t mind being touched. He is used in schools, hospitals, and retirement homes. Hutchinson rescued Ozzy from a petting zoo. Kids love him. She explained: “The kids just wanted to be with the animals because they saw how non-threatening they were. One little girl was so afraid (at first) and at the end of the session, she was following me and Ozzy around, even walking Ozzy. It was so beautiful. I was overwhelmed with emotion.”

Lexy Helps Soldiers With PTSD


Lexy is a therapy dog who helps soldiers deal with postwar stress. The German shepherd helps distract those who have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other issues. She works alongside 82nd Airborne psychiatrist Maj. Christine Rumayor in the Robinson Health Clinic at Fort Bragg. “I have a hard time talking to people about my deployments and everything,” noted Staff Sgt. Dennis Swols, who has been deployed three times. “But having her here, I just pet Lexy. Or I’m just sitting here and we won’t talk about deployments, we’ll just (talk) about the dog. … My day is better every time I come in.”

Draven Helps Bed-Ridden Folks


Draven is about five years old and is a rescue from Pennsylvania. He and his owner visit schools, hospitals, convalescent homes, and assisted living facilities. He tours hospitals in a pet stroller so he can be “at a good level for bed ridden folks.” If he feels the need, Draven will jump onto a patient’s bed to be closer to him or her. People can feed him using a special “treat stick.” Even those who have injuries feel better after meeting him. Draven also travels to conventions and competitions to raise awareness about the work that therapy cats do for others.

Elsa The Paralyzed Pit Bull Helps Others Who’ve Gone Through Similar Situations


Elsa was rescued by the British Columbia SPCA. She became paralyzed after a stroke but re-learned how to walk 16 months later. She still occasionally uses a “dog buggy.” Elsa and her owner, Kelly Dann, visit the GF Strong Rehabilitation Center each week. They visit patients who must endure the difficult process of rehabilitation therapy. “Initially I just wanted to keep Elsa active and stimulated after her stroke so this was a way for us to do something together,” Dann said. “And my hope was to maybe inspire some people that have gone through a similar situation as Elsa to never give up and hang in there.”

Teddy Calms Students During Finals Week


Animals help people in all sorts of ways. This Ragdoll cat is named Teddy, and he’s about five years old. He is a beautiful cat that spends much of his time helping others. While many therapy cats help those who are sick, one of Teddy’s specialties is helping people who are stressed. One time he visited Pacific Lutheran University during finals week. As most students know, it can be extremely difficult to deal with life during finals. Teddy’s presence was a gift to students, particularly those who got very anxious about testing. Who wouldn’t calm down after giving Teddy a hug?

Abandoned Blind Pug Comforts Others


A pug named Xander from Klamath Falls, Oregon was blinded in an accident at the age of one. He was then put up for adoption. Volunteers at Klamath Animal Shelter fell in love with the dog and decided to take him home. It didn’t take long for Marcie and Rodney Beedy to realize how Xander made everyone around him feel good. So they enrolled him in the American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen program. Rodney said: “A lot of times he’ll hear a child crying at an event and he’s bolted several times, at least 500 ft over to this child to comfort them.”

Mim Was Abandoned But Now Gives Back


This is Mim, a purebred exotic shorthair, a breed of cat that is known for their rounded heads and ears and large round eyes. Believe it or not, she was abandoned outside her carrier. It’s inhuman for people to do such a thing. Fortunately, she was rescued by the SPCA. After such a sad start in life, Mim is now giving back. She turned into a volunteer therapy cat. Her huge eyes and sweet personality are assets to the people she encounters on a daily basis. She may have had a tough beginning, but she is able to identify with others who are also struggling in life.

Everyone Wants A Hug From A Miniature Horse


The nonprofit, all-volunteer group Horse Hugs is based in North Carolina. They use miniature horses for therapy due to their “loving personalities and sweet nature” and because they have “a very calming effect on friends and visitors.” The group decided to help people who are bored, lonely and depressed. They visit hospitals, nursing homes, hospices, assisted care centers, and homes with very sick children. The facilities report that the horses are a godsend, and people eagerly look forward to their return visits. This pair of horses even dressed up for Easter, delighting those who were able to visit with them.

Dug Soothes Students At Ohio University


Dug is a golden retriever who is named after the dog in the Disney/Pixar animated film “Up.” He’s only two years old and new to the job working for the Ohio University Counseling and Psychological Services. “Coming here, he wasn’t so sure about the size of the building,” said his handler Rinda Scoggan, a senior counselor. “But now he comes in, and he’s good about coming into the elevator now. He didn’t ride an elevator for the first time until the summer.” He’s helpful to students who miss their dogs back home: “They do form bonds that they love to pet him, and he’s so excited to see them.”

Mother & Daughter Duo Use Llamas & Alpacas To Help Others


Rojo the llama and Napoleon the alpaca are helping people in the Pacific Northwest. “[Rojo’s] temperament has always remained the same,” noted his handler Lori Gregory. “Very people friendly, very touchable, enjoys being around new environments. We are just so thankful to have him to take around, because everybody falls in love with him.” After being certified, Lori and her daughter Shannon started taking Rojo on hundreds of visits to help people in need. The pair also has four other llamas and three alpacas that they use in their work through the non-profit called Mountain Peaks Therapy Llamas and Alpacas.

Norbert Makes People Smile & Has His Own Book


Norbert is a tiny dog who weighs only three pounds. His small tongue often sticks out of his mouth, making him particularly cute. His mom, Julie Steines, knew he would be a perfect therapy dog: “Norbert is an incredibly sweet, smart and loving little fellow. He can sense when someone is sad or not well and has a unique way of spreading smiles, just by being himself.” He even has his own book, “Norbert: What Can Little Me Do?” The message is, “You don’t need to be big to make a big difference in the world, and that we all have special gifts that can make others smile.”

Fiona Helps Kids Read


Some children have trouble reading, but Fiona is a big help for schools implementing literacy programs. She is a certified Bow Wow Reading Dog who is trained to listen while kids read aloud to them. The handlers of these dogs are retired teachers and principals that assist at-risk students in reading. Dogs like Fiona help lower blood pressure and anxiety. Students who read while accompanied by a calm animal tend to display better behavioral and communication skills. According to Raquel, site coordinator at Webb Primary, Fiona is a huge hit with the kids: “They are so excited about reading because of Fiona!”

Magic The Miniature Horse Is A Hero


A blue-eyed mare named Magic is a miniature that Time magazine and AARP once designated as one of their top 10 heroic animals. When Magic visited a patient in an assisted-living facility, the woman hadn’t spoken to anyone in over three years. But when she saw Magic she declared, “Isn’t she beautiful?” The interaction brought the staff to tears, and the patient continued to communicate afterward. Magic and her owner, Jorge Garcia-Bengochea, visit cancer patients, elderly hospice residents, abused children and others as part of Gentle Carousel Therapy Horses. Magic started receiving therapy training as a baby and lets people love and hug her.