A group of therapy dogs was recently sent to Orlando to comfort victims and family members following the Orlando Massacre. 12 golden retrievers arrived in the city to offer some canine affection to anybody who needed it after the deadliest shooting in American history. Part of the Lutheran Church Charities K-9 Comfort Dogs team, based in Northbrook, Illinois, the team has been helping victims through difficult times since 2008 and as far as we know, it’s working. What we’d like to know is, how exactly does it work?
How Dogs Can Help Us Heal
Comfort dogs, as they’re known, are becoming more of a common sight these days. You will find them in nursing homes, in airports, and on college campuses. So what is it about dogs that can help us heal? While we’re still unsure how effective comfort animals are in providing long-term relief, studies have shown that comfort dogs can reduce anxiety, depression, and the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Just the simple act of talking to the dogs is where the real therapy comes. People dealing with tragedy and grief in their life want somebody to talk to and need someone who will listen to them without any form of judgement – and dogs are the perfect listeners. As the victims tell their stories and let out all their anguish, they can gently stroke the comfort dog and that’s when the healing takes place.
According to Tim Hetzner, president of the K-9 Comfort Dogs charity, the dogs helped provide a feeling of security to the victims they visit. He explains many of the people who stroke the dogs break down, having a moment of vulnerability, which is vital during these devastating situations.
“With the family members, we spent time with them, and they just appreciate having something positive that’s taking place after the last few days,” said Hetzner. “Dogs show unconditional love.”
So why is that we feel better when we pet a dog? Research shows that petting a dog can reduce levels of stress hormones, lower blood pressure, and release oxytocin, a hormone associated with affection, in both the human and the dog. When it comes to human affection, everything gets complicated. When it comes to dog affection, it’s simple, uncomplicated and has no consequences. People dealing with tragedy in their lives need this more than anything: uncomplicated affection.
To some, it may seem simplistic but it’s precisely the simplicity of it that forms such a powerful bond between humans and dogs.
The Positive Influence of K-9 Comfort Pups
There are over 120 dogs in the K-9 Comfort Dog Unit, all of them extensively trained in a similar manner as a service dog. In addition to helping the victims of the Orlando shooting, the dogs also offered comfort the victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting and the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.
In the wake of disasters like these, man’s best friend can truly help people with their grief and encourage them to heal.
One of the K9 Comfort Dogs, Noah, was recently in the news for helping calm cancer patients’ stress. He goes on regular visits to SSM St. Mary’s Hospital to give the patients love and affection and according to one of the nurses he, “takes their mind off why they’re here.’’
Support the K9 Comfort Dogs Team
Without this incredible team, there’d be even more suffering in the world and a lot less healing. When disasters strike in the world, these wonderful dogs are there to help and give comfort to those who desperately need it. And by the looks of it, they’re doing a good job.
For that reason, we must support their work. You can help support their work by sending them a donation here.
All image source: K-9 Comfort Dogs/Facebook