Therapy animals- helping to bring comfort and happiness to those in need

By on March 29, 2015

We all know the benefits of living a happy and healthy life, but many of us are unaware of the benefits pets can provide toward leading this kind of life. Pet owners certainly know the benefits of having a friend like a cat or dog, but did you know there are certain very special animals that are trained specifically to bring us happiness, joy, comfort, and love? These animals are commonly referred to as therapy pets and dogs are the most common type of therapy animals.

Wikipedia provides this great explanation of a therapy dog’s purpose and job:

A therapy dog is a dog trained to provide affection and comfort to people in hospitals, retirement homes, nursing homes, schools, hospices, people with learning difficulties, folks in stressful situations- such as disaster areas.

Therapy dogs come in all sizes and breeds. The most important characteristic of a therapy dog is its temperament. A good therapy dog must be friendly, patient, confident, gentle, and at ease in all situations. Therapy dogs must enjoy human contact and be content to be petted and handled, sometimes clumsily.

A therapy dog’s primary job is to allow unfamiliar people to make physical contact with it and to enjoy that contact. Many dogs contribute to the visiting experience by performing small tricks for their audience or by playing carefully structured games. In hospice environments, therapy dogs can play a role in palliative care by reducing death anxiety.

Therapy dogs are appearing in more and more places these days and provide proven benefits for those in need of a pick-me-up. These wonderful animals are specially trained to bring comfort and joy to any and all people they encounter.

In our area, there are a number of providers and organizations who specialize in the services that therapy dogs provide. Paws For Friendship is one of the foremost providers of therapy dogs. Here’s an explanation of their purpose, history, and service that was provided by some friendly folks in the therapy department of Omaha’s Alegent Health System at Immanuel Hospital:

Paws for Friendship, Inc. is a non-profit organization of volunteers sharing the unconditional love of their personal pets with people in need throughout the world. They are a non-profit 501c3 tax deductible organization. Their program is designed to reach out to all in need, not just any specific age or disability. They reach those in need who are in cancer units, dialysis centers, burn centers, hospice, nursing homes, hospitals, etc. They also work with children who have had emotional or physical trauma including Camp Easter Seals, school programs, health and awareness programs, and schools. They also have worked directly with families on home visitation for the elderly. Their program is friendly to all situations. Around the World they open chapters that visit facilities of all sorts. Because of the great distance involved it was impossible for any local member to be everywhere the need existed. Throughout the past 15 years they have worked in many hospitals around the world. From Belgium to South America, they have corresponded with hospitals and health related agencies to inspire those to implement their program to reach those in need in their areas.

Midlands Pet Therapy is another organization specializing in therapy dog services. Midlands Pet Therapy is affiliated with Therapy Dogs Incorporated. They visit many communities in eastern Nebraska and Iowa, including Malvern, IA. It is their goal to provide registration, support, and insurance for members who are involved in animal assisted activities. They visit hospitals, special needs centers, schools, and nursing homes.

It is impossible to say which people and patients that therapy dogs benefit the most, but one thing is for sure- these special pups are excellently trained and provide a service unlike anything else. From helping to calm school students with behavioral disorders to lessening the anxiety of a lengthy hospital or hospice stay, therapy dogs are truly wonderful. Therapy dogs benefit soldiers dealing with PTSD, the elderly who may not have many other outlets for communication or socialization, and many more types of people in need of a little puppy love.

Have you had any experience with therapy animals? If so, we’d love to hear your story. Comment below or use our Contact Us form under the Contact tab on the homepage. Share the benefits you’ve felt from being in the company of therapy animals with the Pets In Des Moines community.

Image credit: magazine.ucla.edu

 

About Eric Forrest

Eric Forrest is a student, teacher, writer and dad. He's had 5 dogs, 4 cats, two ducks and a cottontail rabbit he nursed back to health. When he's not writing about pets, he's writing essays, teaching literature, changing diapers and reading short stories.

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