Animals are not only able to form a special bond with humans, they provide a sense of security and emotional support that can help people overcome difficult times or cope with fears and insecurities associated with anxiety, loneliness, post-traumatic stress disorder, and depression. Whether it’s assisting someone with limited mobility or an impairment, comforting a child with autism or providing psychological support for a veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), therapy dogs are making a huge difference in the lives of their guardians. While puppies are still widely used in therapy dog training, organizations have also started using shelter dogs in their programs.
There are a lot of unfortunate myths associated with shelter animals. Even though they end up at the shelter through no fault of their own, some people see them as “damaged” or having something “wrong” with them. But the truth is, they are just as loving, smart, and loyal as any other dog. Those who are able to see their potential know these compassionate and forgiving beings are capable of anything. These nonprofit organizations are working to show that shelter dogs are not only amazing and loyal companions, but also play an important role in serving as therapy dogs for people in need.
1. Pets for Vets
Pets for Vets/Facebook
Many soldiers returning from service suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, a condition that affects people after they experience a terrifying event, causing symptoms such as night terrors and severe anxiety. Pets for Vets recognizes the calming impact dogs can have on people, so they created a program to rescue and train shelter pets to serve as therapy dogs for veterans.
Dogs are evaluated to make sure they would thrive in a home environment and then spend time in their trainer’s home, where they learn basic obedience and skills that will prepare them for life with their new guardian. This incredible organization has chapter locations throughout the U.S. that are working to match people with the perfect companion.
2. Merlin’s Kids
The founder of Merlin’s Kids has worked for the past 30 years to help rehabilitate dogs through her behavior and training programs. Wanting to make a difference in the lives of dogs and people, she formed the organization to rescue dogs from shelters and train them to assist people in need, focusing on children with special needs and veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Merlin’s Kids also has programs that use dogs for disease detection, to provide comfort to victims of abuse as they testify in court, and to assist at hospitals and assisted living facilities. Since being founded, they have helped over 700 shelter dogs train and be placed with people and families as service dogs.
3. Shelter to Soldier
Shelter to Soldier/Facebook
In an effort to help post-combat soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, Shelter to Soldier adopts and trains shelter dogs to become service dogs that provide psychiatric support. They have a team of trainers who help shelter dogs work on basic obedience and overcome any fears they may have before placing them with their caregivers.
Their success stories prove what an incredible impact these dogs have on the lives of soldiers, helping them to overcome their own fears and anxieties, allowing them to cope and enjoy day-to-day activities again.
4. Little Shelter Animal Rescue and Adoption Center
As part of their pet therapy program, Little Shelter Animal Rescue & Adoption Center works to train dogs from their shelter to serve as therapy dogs for disabled veterans and residents at assisted living facilities. The dogs are brought to facilities where they can interact with people in a public meeting area or go to individual rooms for visits.
People who enter assisted living facilities sometimes have to leave pets behind, but programs like this help them feel that loving connection they miss, creating a bright spot in their day. The dogs also lift the spirits of residents by providing comfort and companionship.
5. Can Do Canines
Can Do Canines/Facebook
It was a dog from a local shelter that helped launch Can Do Canine’s assistance dog program back in 1989. The organization has grown significantly since then, but still maintains a special program that trains shelter dogs for therapy purposes. Overall, their programs have provided over 500 specially trained dogs to assist people experiencing difficulties with hearing, mobility, seizures, diabetes, and autism.
Their facility has a special area where shelter dogs are evaluated and given any necessary medical treatment, then placed into their therapy dog training program. If one of the dogs is unable to continue the program due to behavioral or medical issues, the organization works to find them a forever home with a loving family.
How You Can Help
Organizations often provide therapy and assistance dogs to people free of charge. You can help by donating to a therapy dog organization in your community, or by volunteering to help train animals and prepare them for life with their new caregivers.
Lead image source: Merlin’s Kids/Facebook