Mars Africa in partnership with Autism South Africa and Woodrock Animal Rescue Shelter launch the first annual “Pets for People” campaign. The aim of the awareness campaign is to help inspire and encourage families all over the globe to engage in the benefits pets can have on people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
Autism affects an estimated 70 million people around the globe and has various subtypes influenced by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. The anxiety, depression and attention issues can be a real struggle for both those affected by autism and their families. However, finding appropriate resources and therapy can help those affected with autism better cope with daily life. 
A study that was carried out at the University of Lincoln in the UK revealed that children with autism experience fewer meltdowns and their parents stress levels are significantly lowered when the children are in the presence of a pet . Globally, Mars is committed to exploring the health and wellness benefits of pet ownership and believes pets truly make the world a better place. That is why they are inspired to make a better world for both pets and people.
“Pets make a difference to a child’s confidence levels, they help reduce anxiety, improve communication and help families come together and participate in more activities,” explains, Tumi Masekela, Corporate Affairs Director for Mars Africa.
The programme will see families get an opportunity to be educated about the impact of the study by the University of Lincoln, and the opportunity for children with autism to experience the unconditional love from a pet. Through guided therapy sessions and other group activities, autistic children and their families will be able to experience the benefits of pet interaction first-hand. Constant evaluation will be conducted throughout the programme so that the families can see measurable behaviour improvement in their children.
“We are extremely excited about this project as we have seen the benefits not only for children with autism, but their entire families from interactions and love from family pets, whether support dogs or just the family ‘furbaby’. We are delighted to be working with MARS and Woodrock on this project especially during our April Autism Awareness Month!”, says National Director of Autism South Africa, Sandy Klopper.
“Pets provide unconditional, nonjudgmental love,” says, Stella Meldau, founder and Managing Director of Woodrock Animal Rescue. “Pet ownership offers so many benefits. A pet can decrease depression, stress and anxiety, they can lower blood pressure, improve immunity and even decrease risk of heart attack and stroke. We really hope that our furry friends at Woodrock offer some much relief from everyday struggles.”
“Early intervention is the key to improved learning, communication and social skills. Through the Pets for People campaign we hope to educate South Africans so that parents and families can identify the signs of autism, as early intervention and treatment improves outcomes,” continues Masekela.
Following the three-month trial, the families will be able to evaluate their experience and a long-term therapy programme will be developed.
“At Mars Petcare, we are committed to harnessing the long-term benefits of pet interaction and ownership,” concludes Masekela. “We hope to work with these organisations to develop an ongoing programme that will showcase the healing power of pets.”