When you’ve had a really bad day or when you don’t feel well, what is the one thing that almost always makes it better? For me, it’s usually the smiling face of one of my Goldens or the antics of my Schipperke, Race. For therapy dogs across the country, this is the service that they, along with their human counterparts, perform for many people in various situations.
If you’ve ever thought about becoming one half of a therapy dog team, take a look at all of the ways that dogs are helping people. Maybe one of these many programs will be a fit for you and your dog.
Dogs Helping Kids
- Visiting hospitals – When children are hospitalized for extended periods, having a furry dog (large or small) visit them in their rooms is perhaps the very best medicine.
- Teaching them to read – No, the dogs don’t actually TEACH them, but they do help them to relax as they read aloud. Children in these programs often have self-esteem issues and have difficulty reading aloud in front of their classmates. Dogs are great for establishing a relaxed and non-judgmental atmosphere.
- Visiting shelters – Victims of abuse are most in need of the unconditional love that is freely given by therapy dogs.
Dogs Helping the Elderly
- Nursing home visits – One of the first areas in which therapy dogs were used, nursing home visits by therapy dog teams serve many functions. Dogs are able to provide comfort to those who are lonely and bring back memories of canine companions long passed.
- Helping with hospice – While this is probably the most difficult work for a therapy team, it is also deeply rewarding. To provide comfort during life’s final moments is something that dogs are uniquely able to do.
Helping in Other Ways
- Disaster and stress relief – You may have witnessed the work of these dogs shortly after 9/11. The relief that the therapy teams provided to those victims as well as victims of natural disasters is beyond compare. Imagine having just lost everything, including life as you previously knew it. The dogs that perform this work are furry angels and nothing less.
- Physical therapy assistance – One of the most touching and inspirational moments I have ever witnessed was seeing a dog working with a child in physical therapy. The goal given to the child by the therapist was to walk a few steps toward the dog. As the child approached, the dog would slowly take steps backward to entice the child to walk farther. When the dog sensed that the child had had enough, he stopped so the child could reach him. There was not a dry eye in the room. The child had walked farther than in any previous sessions.
If this sounds like something you would like to pursue with your dog, there are several organizations that you can work with. Therapy teams must first be certified because, as you might imagine, not all dogs (or people) are cut out for this type of volunteer work. Training classes that are specific to the requirements of the certification are advised.
National Therapy Dog Organizations: