We’ve always admired our canine friends who are therapy dogs and the joy they bring to the humans they visit. They come in all breeds, genders, shapes and sizes and have been recognized for the ability to lower blood pressure, improve feelings of loneliness, reduce depression and raise self-esteem.
However, their value extends far beyond comforting the sick and bringing joy to the elderly. Did you know that therapy dogs also assist children learning to read, sitting attentively and patiently while children read to them, allowing them to improve their skills and boost their self-esteem? They have also been effectively used in rehabilitation facilities for substance abuse, encouraging higher levels of patient participation resulting in a more successful recovery. So it’s no surprise that we’ve seen the number of registered therapy dogs soar. As of 2011, the organization Therapy Dogs International alone had 24,000 therapy dogs registered.
Our mom told us the story of when our older sister Onyx was a therapy dog and went to the neighborhood nursing home every week to visit the residents. They would start in the common room where it would be sing-around-the-piano time. Everyone would sing 'How Much Is That Doggie in the Window' to her and then she would go to each person and give them special attention. There was one man in particular who suffered from Alzheimer’s who had not communicated verbally or non-verbally with anyone for over a year. His daughter was always there with him and showered Onyx with attention but the gentleman never acknowledged her. Then one day the man’s eyes lit up, he looked right at her, smiled a big smile and started petting her. No one could believe it, his daughter and the nurses were in tears. They sat with him for over an hour as he continued to smile, pet and coo to her. Onyx brought the spark of life back in him even if only for that short time. We’ll never know what triggered it but it’s just another example of the special connection and bond between human and canine.
We’ve been told that our personality isn’t conducive to being therapy dogs. I guess we understand since we can be a bit skittish around strangers which usually means we either strain to get away or bark at them so they’ll leave. So instead we take pleasure in the occasions we can put a smile on a little kid’s face when we let them pet us. I suppose that’s our version of “pet” therapy.
Sadie & Bella
Do you have a dog in your home that would make a great therapy dog? Have you ever thought about becoming a therapy dog handler? If you answered yes, then maybe it’s time to look into it at little further. If you are interested in learning more, the Therapy Dogs International website is a great place to start!