Dogs have always been humans’ devoted companions. They have a long history of being therapy animals who assist people with daily tasks, and more recently, many dogs serve as emotional support animals for people suffering from anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder. The ways dogs have helped people maintain their independence while providing humans with healing support are incredible, but we are learning that dogs are capable of so much more than we even give them credit for.
As our understanding of what dogs are truly capable of grows, these smart and lovable companions are helping humans in new and innovative ways. Whether it’s using their 220 million scent receptors to sniff out illness, assisting in rescuing people after a disaster or providing comfort to people during stressful times, dogs are playing an increasingly important role in keeping humans safe and helping save lives.
Providing Comfort to People in Need
For people of any age, staying in a hospital can be a stressful and scary experience. It’s a well-known fact that dogs can help improve our mental and physical health, so hospitals and other care centers are using therapy dogs to help calm people prior to procedures, and as a source of comfort as patients recover from surgery or illness.
Dogs are also brought to cancer treatment centers, where they keep company with patients as they go through chemotherapy treatments. In hospice facilities, dogs serve as companions for those battling a terminal illness, bringing comfort to patients as well as their family members. Being able to gently stroke a dog’s soft fur as their head rests gently in your lap helps calm the mind, making what is often an isolating experience feel a little less lonely.
Searching to Save Lives
When we think about search and rescue dogs, one old and familiar image is that of a St. Bernard, a breed that was often used to help locate people trapped in the Alps after a storm. Today, dogs of all breeds play a crucial role in the rescue team, working closely with human handlers to locate people trapped after earthquakes, floods, and other disasters. These hard-working canines also navigate their way through dense forests and snow-covered mountains, using scent to track missing people who might not otherwise be found.
With senses far superior to their human counterparts and the ability to fit into small spaces and navigate treacherous terrain, dogs who serve on search and rescue teams have helped save countless lives. They are seen as heroes — as they should be — and, like their handlers, are honored when they retire or pass away.
Detecting Health Conditions and Illness
Canine doctors? Well, not exactly, but dogs have been helping people by detecting everything from low blood sugar to cancer. Those living with diabetes or seizure disorders use specially-trained medical alert dogs to help detect a change in the body’s chemistry. After detecting a change, the dogs alert their guardians and assist them when they are experiencing a seizure.
Trained dogs are also “hired” by hospitals to help detect cancer in lab samples. One study involving five dogs found that they were able to correctly detect cancer in patients 88 percent of the time, simply by sniffing a person’s breath. Other studies have demonstrated significant success with urine samples. Even untrained dogs have helped detect diseases in humans by constantly pawing at or sniffing an area of their bodies, prompting their guardians to schedule visits with doctors.
Ensuring Safe Travels
With more people bringing pets along on their travels, seeing canine companions in the airport isn’t necessarily a new thing. But not all dogs are there in preparation for a vacation with their human; some of them are there to work.
Dogs like Murray, a beagle rescued from a Georgia shelter, assist customs officials in tracking down plants and foods that are not allowed out of the country. Others are trained specifically to act as canine TSA agents, sniffing their way through every nook and cranny of the airport and checking out passengers to detect potential dangers like explosives. Airport dogs are helping keep other animals safe as well. In Michigan, a service dog named Piper helps keep birds off the runway, creating a safe landing area for both animals and humans.
While not every dog has the ability to locate explosives or detect cancer with their nose, they all have one thing in common: the ability to bond with humans in a way that changes our lives in an incredible manner. Loyal and loving, dogs give us more than we could ever give them in return.
Lead image source: Wikimedia