A Little Dog Therapy...
The health benefits of dog ownership are well documented. Dogs offer us compassion, loyalty, understanding, companionship and above all, love. They are always there for us, no matter what and ask for so little in return. It is therefore not surprising that more and more, many of us depend on our best friend to be by our side when times are tough.
We all marvel at the work of service dogs and recognize their amazing contributions. So many lives are improved by dogs trained specifically to work with the blind, the hard of hearing, those with mobility issues or psychiatric issues, but how many of us really know how therapy dogs could help us in our everyday lives. Perhaps it's a routine dental appointment that we're dreading, or a life event where we simply need someone to help us cope. A trained therapy dog could be the answer!
That dreaded dental appointment!
We all dread the dentist, but thankfully many dentists are beginning to address the dental phobias of their patients and are introducing therapy dogs into their practices with amazing results. A therapy dog in a dental office detracts from the fear experienced by so many. Having a dog around changes the whole atmosphere - dogs are fun and happy and tend to make us happy too! They are often found chair side or on a patient's lap during a dental procedure. Dentists report that patients tend to be much more relaxed while petting a therapy dog and will even look forward to future visits, which as we all know, is usually not the case when it comes to dental appointments!
Therapy dogs aid recovery...
We are becoming increasingly aware that taking dogs who have completed therapy dog training into care settings encourages social interaction, helping promote emotional and physical well-being. Therapy dogs are becoming commonplace in our hospitals, hospices, care homes and day centers.
They interact with patients and seniors, offering companionship, compassion, building relationships and simply brightening the day...there is nothing better than seeing the smile on someone's face when a dog unexpectedly appears! In addition to helping to combat feelings of isolation and stress, such visits promote awareness of how positive dog/human relationships can be and can often change perceptions people might have when it comes to different dog breeds.
Residents of senior centers look forward to visits from canine companions - they have something to get up for! In addition to the comfort offered, precious memories of pets come flooding back as the seniors pet their new friends. In many cases, an elderly person might have had to give up their pet in order to move into their care facility, so visits like this fill that void. Caregivers use words like "joy", "rapport" and mention increased levels of alertness as they witness interaction with therapy dogs. There's simply no doubt that therapy dogs improve the quality of people's lives whilst they are receiving care.
Calm in a Crisis
While many people are familiar with therapy dogs that visit patients in hospitals or care centers, how many of us are aware of canines who are specially trained to assist crisis response teams? These canines are conditioned to remain focused and interactive in environments that have many distractions, such as large crowds, noisy sirens, and environmental hazards.
They are also selected for their natural sensitivity to those experiencing intense emotions. These specially trained pooches and their handlers are "on call" 24 hours a day to help comfort and offer compassionate support to survivors, their families or bystanders following a traumatic incident. They help by engaging people at a scene, enabling first responders to focus on the emergency at hand. Offering their special brand of comfort, dogs distract people at upsetting crime scenes, fires, traffic accidents and search and rescue operations. They are also very helpful when it comes to defusing disturbances, providing welcome support at community activities and public events.
We'd now like to introduce you to Molly, a therapy dog from Minnesota, who knows all about providing comfort to dental patients, visiting hospice patients and providing assistance as a member of a crisis response team! You can see pictures of this amazing dog all over this blog!
Mary, Molly's Mom, tells us that Molly, who is eight, goes to work at her dental practice whenever patients request her. She greets them and sits on their laps while they're in the dental chair. Patients of all ages love Molly and really appreciate how having her around makes it easier for them to relax during their procedures. Mary says that whenever Molly's in the office, the whole atmosphere changes and people laugh - they actually seem to enjoy being there! The transformation never ceases to amaze her. Some patients even drive over an hour just so they can have Molly around. Autistic patients in particular, do so much better at the dentist when there's a dog to pet while they're in the chair. Mary would love to see more dentists' offices use therapy dogs and is always keen to get the word out.
This caring canine also visits hospice patients and Mary tells us that along with Molly, she's now working with another therapy dog, who is starting to make "house calls".
As a valued member of the HOPE Animal-Assisted Crisis Response team, Mary and Molly are trained to respond to crises. HOPE AACR was formed in the Pacific Northwest in 2001, following a school shooting at Thurston High School in 1998. Over the years, HOPE's teams have assisted at many different crisis response call-outs, including school shootings, suicides, accidental deaths, floods and wildfires. A wonderful national organization, Mary and Molly are currently one of two teams in the state of Minnesota.
If your dog is well-mannered and enjoys meeting lots of different people, then he could make a great therapy dog, regardless of age or breed. The Alliance of Therapy Dogs is a great place to start. While obedience training can be useful in therapy settings, this wonderful organization doesn't require formal training, certifications, or tests, other than their own.
If you would like to find out more about HOPE AACR and perhaps attend a training workshop, please check out their website. They do require that interested people have experience volunteering in animal-assisted activities and animal-assisted therapy. Even if you don't have a dog, you could still join this great organization as a team leader.
We'd love to hear about your therapy dogs! Please send us your stories and pictures to firstname.lastname@example.org