They’re considered professionals. They can bring comfort to people suffering from mental illness, substance abuse, dementia or trauma. These healers, however, don’t have actual professional degrees. Instead, they have four paws and a furry face. And they’re doing some incredible work in the counseling and recovery fields.

While there may not be one definite explanation as to why or how these animals help, we know that they do. These therapy animals – mainly dogs and cats – have made headline after headline because they bring smiles to those in need.

The Mayo Clinic uses therapy dogs for their patients to help them get through traumatic procedures, diagnoses, and illnesses. Their website says, “An assistance dog and its handler visit your hospital room. They stay for 10 or 15 minutes. You’re invited to pet the dog and ask the handler questions. After the visit, you realize you’re smiling. And you feel a little less tired and a bit more optimistic. You can’t wait to tell your family all about that charming canine. In fact, you’re already looking forward to the dog’s next visit.”

Therapy animals are often called in to help people after incredibly traumatic situations. In Newtown, Connecticut, therapy dogs met with children who experienced the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. In Orlando, dogs were present to bring comfort to those affected by the nightclub shooting. These stories show just how real animal therapy can be.

The beautiful thing about animals is that they have unconditional love. They don’t judge or discriminate. They’re happy to love and be loved. These traits make it possible for patients to bond with them, confide in them, and relax around them. The fact that these animals will not judge them or hurt them makes it possible for them to experience therapy in a way humans often aren’t capable of offering.