Dogs have an incredible way of changing our lives for the better. These intelligent and intuitive animals have a way of working themselves into our hearts with their unconditional love — and their ability to make us smile with the simple wag of their tail or by looking at us with their big, soulful eyes. The bond between humans and animals is special, which makes it no surprise these faithful companions are serving not only as companions but as service animals who help people with disabilities maintain their independence.
Traditional service dogs provide assistance to those with hearing or vision impairment, as well as mobility issues. Some can even help predict low blood sugar or activate an emergency alarm when their person has a seizure. But in addition to these traditional service roles, therapy dogs are helping people in new and amazing ways.
Trained therapy dogs can provide emotional support for people going through difficult situations, whether they’re suffering from anxiety after a traumatic experience, serving as a witness in court, or enduring other difficult and emotional changes in life. It’s a concept that’s quickly catching on as more people begin to recognize the incredible healing effect dogs can have on humans.
Helping People Suffering From Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
A dog’s gentle nature makes them the perfect companion during stressful times, which is why programs are using therapy dogs to provide companionship and emotional support for veterans and other people suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This anxiety disorder is triggered by a traumatic event in a person’s life and can cause mood swings, severe anxiety, and nightmares or flashbacks. It has a devastating impact on individuals and their families, and the healing process takes time.
While scientific research supporting the use of therapy dogs to help treat PTSD is limited, there are proven emotional benefits to having a dog. When someone is suffering from this disorder, a dog can bring comfort by awakening them from a nightmare, reducing anxiety in public places, and even encouraging them to leave the house. Having a companion who helps provide a sense of security can help people cope with daily tasks and feel a sense of normalcy as they work through their treatment program. The National Center for PTSD notes benefits and things to consider before applying for a therapy dog for PTSD.
Helping People on the Stand
Courthouse Dogs Foundation/Facebook
The fear and stress of having to relive a traumatic event or face attacker in court can be so overwhelming, it can prevent victims — especially if they are children — from being able to testify. Dogs are helping people overcome these fears by serving as a comforting companion during the interview process and trial. These specially-trained canine advocates provide assistance by engaging in a brief bonding period with witnesses, then assisting them through legal proceedings. The simple act of petting a dog can bring comfort to someone who may be afraid or feel too upset to talk, helping them tell their story and bring perpetrators to justice.
Courthouse Dogs is one of the organizations that helps agencies develop programs for therapy dog use at advocacy centers for children and victims of sexual assault, in law enforcement agencies and persecutor’s offices, and at family justice centers.
Helping People in Hospitals and Hospice
Eric Luke/The Irish Times
Coming to terms with your own terminal illness or that of a loved one is undoubtedly one of the most difficult things a person can go through. In hospitals and hospice centers, therapy dogs are using companionship to comfort patients and family members as they prepare to say goodbye. A visit from a furry companion can be a bright spot in someone’s day, especially if they experiencing a sense of loneliness from being separated from their own beloved pets.
The Irish Times reported on how Rian, a two-year-old golden retriever, serves as a therapy dog and companion to residents of Our Lady’s Hospice in Harold Cross, Dublin. Workers at the hospice center say having him around helps create a sense of home and soothes the nerves of new patients. Rian even prevented a family from missing a final moment with their loved one by blocking the doorway when they attempted to leave the room. Minutes later, the family member passed away.
Helping People and Animals
Even in our darkest moments, we can find strength with the help of a canine companion. But it’s not just us humans who benefit. Programs are helping both people and animals by training shelter dogs to become emotional therapy pets, with some even using inmate programs to help train the dogs. You can help these amazing programs succeed by donating to a therapy dog organization or volunteering your time to help foster a dog in training.
Lead image source: Tudor Tulok/Wikimedia