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Four Legged Heroes: Therapy Dogs

By Jeff Enfield

Dogs make great companions and family pets, but they also do a lot of good for those who are less fortunate such as people with disabilities or people who are grieving. Most people know about service dogs but there are other dogs that help people but may be less well known. Therapy dogs are dogs that are used in hospitals, rehabilitation centers, nursing homes and even funeral homes, to bring comfort to people who may be suffering from grief or loneliness. The mere presence of these dogs alleviates feelings of hopelessness and despair and they give hope to depressed people.

Studies have shown that petting a dog or interacting with one can provide a person with a sense of wellbeing and happiness, petting a dog can lower a person’s blood pressure. For dogs to qualify for this kind of work they must have very stable temperaments. Potential therapy dogs have to undergo a series of tests that test their tolerance of unfamiliar people and situations as well as how well they tolerate being handled by strangers. The dogs have to prove they can readily accept people who move differently and they should not be afraid of canes and wheelchairs.

Dogs have been known to reach unreachable people, bringing them out of the shells and this is one of the reasons nursing homes and rehabilitation centers have begun to use therapy dogs in their entertainment programs. Therapy dogs will typically put on a short performance in which they do a few simple tricks and then they interact with the patients or the elderly.

Children’s hospitals also employ therapy dogs as the dogs bring a lot of joy to sick children. Healing has been proven to accelerate when a person is happy or feeling good and the dogs help the children to forget their illnesses and experience a bit of happiness and normality.

Funeral homes have begun to employ the services of therapy dogs to help people who have lost a loved one. Many dogs were used to help the families of the victims of 9/11 come to terms with their loss, providing them with a different yet very effective form of grief therapy.

Dogs have served man in numerous ways ever since they became domesticated. They have helped man hunt. Service dogs allow disabled people to live normal lives, therapy dogs work for our psychological well-being and dogs have helped farmers in a variety of ways for thousands of years. Dogs are truly man’s best friend and all they ask in return is gentle care, food and attention.

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