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As dog lovers, we all know the transformative power of a dog’s love. Affection from our happy dogs can lift our spirits, warm our hearts, and bring insurmountable joy to our lives. In fact, research has shown that dogs can have positive effects on our mental health and emotional well-being.
With this in mind, it’s no surprise that people and organizations have begun employing therapy dogs to support individuals through a variety of difficult circumstances. In celebration of National Animal Therapy Animal Day, we wanted to honor some of the incredible ways that therapy dogs support people as well as highlight some incredible pets.
Read on to learn what a therapy dog is and the amazing contributions therapy dogs make to help people!
Therapy dogs are calm, well-behaved, and well-trained dogs that provide companionships, emotional support, and sometimes physical support, to individuals. Therapy dogs are often family pets who volunteer as therapy dogs under the guidance of their handlers.
Most therapy dogs do not require certifications to offer support but many handlers choose to have their dogs certified by the Alliance of Therapy Dogs. This makes it much easier for these pups to secure volunteer opportunities. Some therapy dogs are certified as Emotional Support Animals and provide specific types of therapy.
Service dogs are trained to perform a specific task that supports their handler. For instance, seeing-eye dogs and medical alert dogs are service dogs because they have been trained to assist their handlers in those specific ways. Service dogs have special legal standing which allows them to be admitted anywhere their handler may go, even if dogs are not usually allowed to enter.
In contrast, therapy dogs usually aren’t trained to perform a specific task. In fact, therapy dogs most commonly assist individuals simply through companionship. Therapy dogs do not have the same legal standing as service dogs and cannot necessarily accompany their handlers everywhere.
Now that we’re clear on what a Therapy dog is, let’s learn about the different ways they can help people!
Therapeutic Visitation Dogs
Therapeutic visitation dogs visit individuals in places like hospitals, long-term living facilities, and hospices. Their mission is to provide companionship and put smiles on the faces of individuals with serious illnesses. Of course, a dog can’t cure an illness, but they do offer a morale boost to individuals who are sick. Therapeutic visitation dogs also offer emotional support to the families of individuals in these facilities. It can be difficult to see a loved one sick or dying but dogs have a way of comforting us during difficult times.
Therapeutic Visitation Dogs usually volunteer with non-profit organizations that work in conjunction with healthcare facilities. However, sometimes these dogs work outside of healthcare settings. You may encounter Therapeutic Visitation Dogs in airports, on college campuses, or even in work offices.
Animal Assisted Therapy
Sometimes referenced as Pet-assisted Therapy, this is a practice that uses animals (in this case, dogs) to provide support for individuals with mental or physical illnesses.
Studies have shown that having a dog present can be emotionally comforting, reduce stress, improve communication, and even increase the self-worth of individuals struggling with illness. Sometimes this type of therapy involves having a therapy dog visit patients who are housed in a treatment facility. Other times, the therapy dog may live with the individual who needs support.
Animal Assisted Therapy typically takes place under the directive of a Social Worker or Psychotherapist. Dogs who work in Animal Assisted Therapy settings are often certified Emotional Support Animals who have been trained to support individuals with specific problems, for instance, PTSD or panic disorders.
Facility Therapy Dog
Facility therapy dogs are trained to offer support and companionship within certain facilities. These dogs still work with handlers but they are conditioned to support individuals through programs specific to the facility where they work.
Common places that make use of facility therapy dogs include skilled nursing facilities, psychiatric programs, special education programs, among others. A facility therapy dog provides support and comfort to individuals within these settings.
Unlike therapeutic visitation dogs, the facility dog is consistently present for the individuals receiving treatment at the facility. This enables them to form a bond with the dog and can help improve their self-confidence and communication and reduce stress and anxiety. Facility therapy dogs can even help distract people from physical pain they are feeling.
As you can see, therapy dogs can have profound impacts on the lives of the individuals they help.
In honor of National Therapy Animal Day on April 30, we thought it might be inspiring to shine a spotlight on some hardworking therapy animals. These incredible animals have touched many lives and leave positive paw prints everywhere they go. Read on to meet them!
Dogtor Loki and her mom, medical student Caroline Benzel, make regular visits to patients and staff within the University of Maryland Medical Center. Loki’s exceptional bedside manner and goofy personality are known to put smiles on her patients’ faces at least 3 times a week.
Loki may be just 2 years old, but she’s already done a whole lot of good in her life!
Jordon, the Labrador Retriever, works as a facility dog for Kids House Children’s Advocacy Center under the guidance of her handler Denise Conus, the director of the Mental Health Program.
Kids House provides a myriad of programs to support children, and Jordon works within many of them to offer comfort and ease anxiety. Because Jordon is a fixture within the facility, the children are able to form bonds with her that they may be lacking in other areas of their life.
Hector was rescued from an illegal dog-fighting ring. Thankfully, dog lovers believe in second chances because Hector was rescued, rehabilitated, and went on to be adopted by Andrew and Clara Yori.
The Yoris believed Hector was truly special and helped him become a certified therapy dog. Together, they made visits to hospitals and nursing homes within their community to spread joy and comfort to both patients and staff.
Hector has since passed away from cancer, but he left a lasting legacy. He was an incredible advocate for his breed, and he provided comfort and affection to many people. Thank goodness for second chances!
Lexy is a German Shepherd who works with her handler, psychiatrist Maj. Lexy’s calm nature is appealing and comforting to people suffering from PTSD and panic disorders. Having Lexy present for therapy sessions has proven to ease the anxiety of individuals and enabled them to open during therapy.
According to her handler, Lexy even attracts people to the possibility of therapy when they might ordinarily find it stigmatizing. Thank you for your service Lexy!
These therapy animals each do incredible work, but we can’t forget that they don’t do it alone. These dogs wouldn’t be able to touch nearly as many lives without the help of their handlers who saw their potential and showed them love too.
So, for National Therapy Animal Day, we want to thank all of these hardworking pups and their dedicated handlers for doing such incredible work.