“Pets are embedded in the soul of our humanity,” says Dr. Edward Creagan, an oncologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, as he explains his feelings for a special colleague in a recent article. Dr. Jack, the only four-footed professional at the Mayo Clinic, is one of more than 10,000 therapy dogs trained by Pet Partners, an organization whose foundation is based on the positive health and well-being that animal interactions can offer people suffering with physical and psychological problems. UCLA’s People-Animal Connection, run by Jack Barron, has 50 dogs that conduct more than 500 sessions a month with their trainers. Barron says that although his organization has many different breeds of dogs, Labradors and golden retrievers are usually the best dogs to enter the therapy field. He says, “They were brought into this world to please people.”
Therapy dogs can help facilitate therapy by actively participating in the treatment protocol. Additionally, therapy dogs act as assistance dogs, helping clients complete activities that they cannot due to physical limitations. Therapy dogs also act as companions and provide vital interaction to clients who may otherwise not respond to visitors or clinicians. This sector of the medical field is highly trained to ignore things that would stimulate other dogs, such as strong smells and loud noises. They must also be able to interact seamlessly with people of all personality types. Barron says, “A dog picks up on any nervousness in a person. It comes out in the leash.” One study revealed that people who had interacted with therapy dogs had experienced a decrease in epinephrine and norepinephrine, the stress hormones, resulting in lowered blood pressure. Another study showed decreased anxiety in 28 clients who had spent time with a therapy dog. It has also been shown that when therapy dogs were introduced to nursing home residents, they experienced fewer symptoms of loneliness and depression.
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