Health professionals know that healthcare is about more than prescribing the right medications and the best procedures. Health is about the whole person, so the best way to stay healthy is to make sure people care for their body, soul and mind.
Assistance dogs, sometimes called therapy dogs, are one of the more fun ways healers care for the whole person. Most assistance dogs are chosen for their obedience and gentle personalities. They go through a rigorous training program and graduate with a certification to bring love and joy to people who need them.
Therapy dogs are shown to have many health benefits, including reduced anxiety and lower blood pressure. Plus, they’re a lot of fun.
7 Innovative Therapy Dog Programs
Here are some of the most innovative therapy dog programs around:
K-9 Comfort Dogs – Lutheran Church Charities
Lutheran Church Charities is a charity organization headquartered in Northbrook, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. Their K-9 Comfort Dog program is a part of their overall mission to assist those in need. They train disaster response teams and provide support to malaria-fighting efforts around the globe.
The comfort dogs travel across the United States visiting disaster sites, hospitals, schools and just about anyone who wants some unconditional love. They also have a special group of dogs trained to visit veterans and military bases. They help wounded vets recover by visiting VA hospitals, traumatic brain injury units, yellow ribbon ceremonies and other events as needed.
Amerman Family Foundation Dog Therapy Program
This wonderful program runs out of the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. They recruit, train and maintain dogs to visit the children recovering in their hospital. They started with just three dogs in a 30-bed unit in 2001, and now their 100 therapy dogs are waiting all day, every day to visit children who need some cheering up.
Not only do the children get some much-needed fun when the dogs visit, but the hospital also uses the dogs to help the kids heal. They use their dogs to help motivate the children through physical therapy, distract them in difficult or painful procedures and they can even help manage pain.
Sadie the Therapy Dog – A Hand to Hold
Sadie, the Therapy Dog, didn’t start out as a therapy dog. Chris Foster is the executive director of A Hand to Hold, a home care service provider in Atlanta. When he adopted Sadie, he just wanted a pet, but he quickly noticed how gentle she was. Pretty soon, Chris decided to bring Sadie into his caregiving team.
Now a certified therapy dog, Sadie does a lot of good. Because Sadie’s owner, Chris, specializes in senior care, she does, too. She visits hospitals, senior care facilities and A Hand to Hold’s clients to bring her own version of healing.
Her only job is to provide a wagging tail, some furry companionship and a lot of love. Sometimes that makes all the difference for people who just need someone to listen.
WOOF: Wonderful Opportunities for Occupants and Fidos
Aside from the eye-roll inducing name, Wonderful Opportunities for Occupants and Fidos (WOOF) is an innovative approach to caring for homeless pets and people. A project of the city of San Francisco’s Animal Care and Control Commission, they pair problem pets with formerly homeless people who live in supportive housing. The program solves two problems: homeless humans living on the street and homeless pets overcrowding area shelters.
The city provides a weekly stipend in exchange for caring for the pets, taking pet training courses and going to job skills classes. Rather than taking certified assistance dogs to comfort people, this program aims to build skills by training both the people and the dogs. Plus, they both get new companions and lots of love.
MIT Puppy Lab
The MIT Puppy Lab started as a research project by a graduate student, Stephanie Ku. She hypothesized that puppies could help de-stress students, faculty, and staff at the high-pressure school. She proposed the idea to The MindHandHeart Innovation Fund, along with a set of research tools to evaluate the results.
The dogs go through training and certification programs through Dog B.O.N.E.S Therapy Dogs. She recruited volunteers from the MIT community and staff, and the response was overwhelming. After the first round of training, Ku established a space and visiting hours for anyone to come and play with some happy puppies.
Pets for Vets
Pets for Vets pairs shelter dogs with veterans returning from the battlefield. Their goal is to help both the dogs and the veterans by bringing them together. Each of the dogs goes through specialized training to ensure they are compatible with their new owner’s needs, including desensitization to wheelchairs and the like.
The dogs get a new home, but the veterans heal through caring for another living thing. The group trains the veterans to care for their new dog.
That act of responsibility helps the vet to grow emotionally. Not only that, but he also gets wonderful companionship and unconditional love.
Animal-Assisted Occupational Therapy
The animal-assisted occupational therapy uses the relationship between animals and people to enhance motivation and treatment for their patients. This kind of animal therapy, usually with dogs, is a specialized field of health care.
It’s more than having an animal comfort people through presence and love. The dog is supervised by a specially trained medical professional who uses the animal in actual therapy.
Therapists will help children with their fine motor skills by asking the child to feed a dog with a pair of tongs. Sometimes the dog is also a way for the child to learn how to positively interact with another human being in a controlled environment. This kind of occupational therapy approaches therapy dogs as an active participant in occupational therapy.
It’s no surprise that pets can have such a healing effect on people. American pet owners consider their pets as more than just animals or possessions. They are all valued members of the family, and we love them as much as we do anyone else. That kind of love has power over people, and these innovative programs harness the power of love and companionship to bring others healing and peace.