Even when surrounded by the most caring people, being in places like nursing homes and hospitals can make the residents and patients feel scared, stressed, and lonely. That is where certified therapy dogs come in. They are a ray of sunshine that brightens the day of everyone they meet.
These are dogs that provide emotional support and comfort to people in stressful situations. Their owners and/or handlers bring them to places like hospitals, nursing homes, group homes, prisons, and disaster sites to share their love and calming personalities with those that need it. Regardless of breed, shape, or size, therapy dogs bring smiles to the faces of the patients and the staff alike.
Therapy dogs need to be certified and registered with a national organization, two of which are Therapy Dogs International (TDI) and The Delta Society (Delta). They go through certification classes and must pass tests before they can start visiting. A good therapy dog should be well-behaved, calm but friendly, and able to adapt to being in many different places and situations. A good age to start this training is around 2 years old and information on these classes is available at most obedience centers.
The benefits of therapy dogs visiting patients are amazing. They allow people to focus on something other than their current situation, and this can ease stress, depression, and improve their overall quality of life. Patients experience lower blood pressure, increased happiness and they smile and laugh more. This social stimulation encourages them to communicate better with others. Research has even shown that therapy dogs can stimulate the memories of patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Bonnie Watson, who works with the pet therapy program at Regions Hospital, says that pet therapy is a “star program for our hospital. They bring such happiness to our staff, patients, and guests. We cannot keep up with the requests.”
Some of the dogs that come to Carver Lake Veterinary Center are certified therapy dogs. Ray Morelli takes his dog, Bubba, to many places including nursing homes, hospitals, and just recently, schools. The two are starting to visit first-grade classrooms so that Bubba can serve as a reading buddy to the students. The kids often feel less pressured and more at ease when practicing reading to a dog. They can take all the time they need and don’t worry so much about making mistakes, which helps build their confidence.
Another one of our clients, Barbara Anderson, has been taking her dog Leyna to visit at nursing homes for about three years now. Barbara saw what a positive effect therapy dogs had on her own father when he was in a nursing home, so she decided to share Leyna’s loving personality with others. She makes a good therapy dog because she is friendly and calm, and has very soft fur that everyone just loves to pet. Leyna really enjoys her therapy work. She gets very excited about it and even recognizes certain residents’ doors. Barbara says when they used to visit one man in particular, Leyna’s tail would start wagging as soon as she saw his door.
Therapy dogs share their love and warmth with everyone that comes in contact with them. They boost the morale of the people they visit as well as the family members of the patients and the staff working there. By just being their lovable selves, these dogs are helping improve the lives of people everywhere.