Dogs might be man's best friend, but other animals can step up to help a person in need. Therapy animals help people suffering or recovering from a range of illnesses and conditions achieve better health and happiness. Therapy pets come from all corners of the animal kingdom, from dogs to miniature horses to elephants to monkeys. Need to see these beloved beasts in action to believe it? Keep clicking to see photos of therapy animals and their companions...
Honor - miniature therapy horse
Handler Jorge Garcia-Bengochea holds Honor, a miniature therapy horse from Gentle Carousel Miniature Therapy Horses, as they visit with patients at the Kravis Children's Hospital at Mount Sinai in the Manhattan borough of New York City, March 16, 2016.
According to folks in Thailand who have pioneered "elephant therapy," elephants make great therapists for kids with autism. Sessions at this elephant therapy center in Lampang include feeding the elephants, playing games with the animals, and creating elephant-themed art. Elephants' intelligence makes them ideal animals to interact with humans, researchers say.
Seniors in care facilities are often lonely and depressed, says Intermountain Therapy Animals, based in Salt Lake City, Utah. The organization provides therapy cats and dogs for seniors to socialize and interact with. Animal visits give residents something to look forward to.
Any kid can have a dog, but not just anyone can have a miniature horse, says Debbie Garcia-Bengochea, director of Gentle Carousel Miniature Therapy Horses, a non-profit with a team of 26 tiny horses. Here is one of them with a young patient.
Therapy bull terrier
This little girl is a patient at the Shriners Hospital for Children in Salt Lake City. Children at the hospital have congenital defects, so animals with a disability of their own (like Piggy the pit bull terrier, pictured here) are a great inspiration. These animals show the kids that they can be happy and cope well with their conditions.
Therapy animals assist people of all ages. Certain kinds of dogs - such as labrador retrievers - are especially good with babies and young children.
Gentle Carousel's therapy horses celebrate holidays, including Christmas - even multiple times a year, for children with life-threatening illnesses. Here, therapy horses Peanut and Cloudburst (19 and 20 inches tall, respectively) make holiday visits as Santa and Mrs. Claus.
The "Santa Ponies" were joined by horses dressed like elves, reindeer and nutcracker horses.
While riding her bike, Ashley was hit by a car and dragged beneath it, causing her to suffer serious burns. This golden retriever motivated her to participate in painful rehabilitation exercises, and also helped distract her during difficult procedures such as bandage and dressing changes. They worked together for months at the University of Utah's Burn ICU, where the director, Dr. Jeffrey Saffle, says therapy dogs are the greatest gift he can provide to not only his patients but also to his staff.
Here's a senior woman with her therapy cat.
An autistic child rides Prathida, a female elephant. "The elephant is such a big stimulus it can keep the attention of an individual longer, and since it is such a wonderful animal bonding can occur," says therapist Nuntanee Satiansukpong.
All of Gentle Carousel's horses wear costumes during their visits - a costume designer makes and donates clothes designed for each individual horse.
Here, Peanut makes a therapy visit in a clown costume. Therapy horses wear costumes to help patients pay attention and to encourage conversation and laughter.
Living with paralysis turns simple activities such as turning on a light switch into stressful situations. That's where monkey helpers come in. Helping Hands: Monkey Helpers for the Disabled is a Boston-based facility that trains and provides monkeys as service animals for people with limited mobility.
Michael lives with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a disease that limits his mobility. He and his monkey helper, Kathy, have been a team for over three years.
"Kathy helps me to live safely and she has given me a greater level of independence," Michael says. "Although I am a college graduate, I had never had the experience of getting a job. Having Kathy's assistance has allowed me to work for the first time. I work from home as a writer for a national publication. Kathy turns on my computer and printer, helps me turn pages of books, etc. - all things I need to do my job."
Wanda is just one of many therapy horses who help young patients celebrate their birthdays. Because the horses visit private homes, they must learn to walk up and down stairs, ride elevators, carefully move around hospital equipment and walk on any floor surface.
Here, a therapy dog helps a patient during a rehabilitation session. Rehabilitation is one of the most effective settings for therapy animals, because the animals can encourage patients to do things they would otherwise be unwilling to try or to endure.
This horse, named Magic, has been featured in numerous publications and even been named one of history's ten most heroic animals by TIME magazine.
Magic visits abused children and children in homeless shelters, in addition to visiting kids with life-threatening illnesses, autism, and other medical conditions.
For teenagers in residential care dealing with psychological and emotional issues, dogs provides a sense of home and a feeling that someone really understands them.
Therapy animals go to camp, too. This young girl, Morgan, attends a camp for kids with cancer in Bozeman, Montana. Here, she goes hiking with a new prosthetic leg - which can be daunting, but the promise of an animal companion inspired her to participate.
After rehab patients graduate from their wheelchairs, they love to return the favor to the therapy dogs that helped them make progress.
Children tend to form very strong bonds with their therapy horses. According to a staff member, one girl with leukemia would not get out of bed - until she met her therapy horse. Another boy, after losing his sight due to a brain tumor, said of his therapy horse, "It is like she can see inside my soul."
Therapy animals are trained to provide pet-facilitated therapy in hospitals, mental institutions, nursing facilities, detention homes, extended care centers, and schools.
Here's a monkey being trained to put a CD into a CD player at "Monkey College."
This young boy, Caleb, barely survived a car accident in which his mom and two siblings died. He had a traumatic brain injury along with multiple broken bones. Having a playful golden retriever participate in his rehabilitation therapy made it lots more fun for him to do the hard work required.
Here is Caleb, still with his therapy animal years after his accident.