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May 3, 2020

Vintage Photographs of Children and Animals at a Hospital in Michigan That Encourage Therapy Through Animals

In September 1956, LIFE photographer Francis Miller visited the children at the University Hospital in Ann Arbor, Michigan, to document the hospital’s animal therapy program, which had already been in operation for over 30 years. At the time, the hospital treated about 3,000 children every year, and the staff operated a “perpetual animal show” to help ease their pain and anxiety.

Today, animal-assisted therapy is common in hospitals, nursing homes, rehab clinics and other places where the pain and solitude that so often come with illness and the stress associated with recovering from injuries or sickness can be almost paralyzing. Whether or not spending time with animals can actually help spark long-lasting improvements in mental health is an open, and controversial, question. But anecdotal evidence suggests that patients offered the opportunity to play with and otherwise interact with animals appear to be more optimistic about their prospects for recovery, while certain animals (especially social animals, like dogs) can often help decrease the sense of isolation and loneliness that so often plagues those stuck in hospitals for long periods of time.

As LIFE noted, “for hurrying a child out of the sickbed, the Ann Arbor hospital has found that nothing can match a youngster’s natural fascination with animals.”

A room full of children, nurses and animals watching as a ferret is crawling across the high-wire as one of the hospital’s methods of using therapy with animals.

A nurse holding a ferret while the little boy is feeding it - part of a method of using therapy with animals.

A little girl is being held up while petting and feeding the kitten as one of the hospital’s method of using therapy with animals.

Three little boys reaching into a water bin of baby ducks as one of the hospital’s methods of using therapy with animals.

Nurse tending to a child playing with a puppy as one of the hospital’s methods of using therapy through animals.

Two children playing with kittens as one of the hospital’s methods of using therapy through animals.

Child playing with a hamster as part of a method of using therapy through animals.

One little girl is pushing a stroller with a dressed up rabbit in it, while the other little girl is carrying a puppy in her arms as one of the hospital’s method of using therapy with animals.

Little girl petting a furry animal being held by the nurse as one of the hospital’s methods of using therapy with animals.

Nurse helping little children bathe a baby pig - part of a method of using therapy with animals.

A child cuddling with a puppy as one of the hospital’s methods of using therapy through animals.

Nurse tending to a child playing with a puppy as one of the hospital’s methods of using therapy through animals.

Nurse holding a black rabbit for a 19 year old girl during her testing as a method of using therapy through animals.

A little boy cuddling a hamster as one of the hospital’s methods of using therapy with animals.

Nurse helping little children bathe a baby pig as one of the hospital’s methods of using therapy with animals.

A child shining the flash light on a jar with a turtle given to her as the hospital’s method of using therapy with animals.

A little girl receiving tests is gazing into a water bin of baby ducks as one of the hospital’s methods of using therapy with animals.

Nurses watching with smiles as a young boy in body braces is feeding a baby pig - part of a method of using therapy with animals.

A child nurse cuddling a towel wrapped baby duck as one of the hospital’s methods of using therapy with animals.

Child cuddling with a hamster as part of a method of using therapy through animals.

(Photos by Francis Miller / LIFE archives, via BuzzFeed)




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