Wed, February 18, 2009
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Pet therapy

2009-02-18 07:00:25 GMT2009-02-18 15:00:25 (Beijing Time)  Reuters

In a remote corner of Siberia children with disabilities are being offered a helping paw.

Animal therapy has been around for a long time, buts it's still a relatively new idea in Russia.

At his small village centre, 200 kms from Omsk, children with special needs are embracing a whole new world of experiences and understanding through interacting with animals.

Studies show that exposure to animals helps improve morale and communication, bolster self-esteem and calm anxiety.

(SOUNDBITE) (Russian) WORKER AT THE BOLSHERECHE VILLAGE ZOO, TATYANA GUSELETOVA, SAYING:

"The animals don't just come to lessons, the animals come to lessons to work. They understand that."

The centre opened two years ago and has treated 160 children.

One of those is seven year old Pasha, who is autistic.

He's been coming to the centre for a year, and his mother has seen remarkable improvements in his behaviour.

SOUNDBITE) (Russian) PASHA'S MOTHER, EVGENIYA SHAMPO, SAYING:

"My child's condition meant he didn't talk. After we came here a year ago, he started to speak, well, how to say 'talk' - in his own way, but nevertheless, something. If before he couldn't pronounce any sound, now he's begun to understand more, interact more."

The sessions are held once a week and last an hour.

The children take turns holding and stroking the animals. They also feed them.

It's clear by the smiles on the children's faces that these small creatures are changing lives in big ways.

Helen Long, Reuters

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