A lot of people still don't know about all the good that is being done by therapy dogs. These gentle animals and their human partners are in hospitals, nursing homes, schools and libraries in growing numbers. Their main job is to give a ray of sunshine to sick, elderly or isolated people--especially those who miss their own beloved pets from time gone by.
Medical science is showing that the benefits go beyond temporary pleasure. Interaction with a therapy dog can lower blood pressure and anxiety levels. It also inspires patients to achieve therapy objectives. One of our favorite people took his first steps out of the wheelchair to cross over and greet Stonewall.
Other people just want the joy of a canine presence. One elderly lady paused from patting Stonewall and reminiscing about her own dog to murmur, "This is like old times." Even victims of advanced alzheimers show pleasure and recognition when a friendly dog appears.
Dogs also help at childrens' hospitals such as Le Bonheur and Saint Jude's and visit schools and libraries where they encourage children's reading skills.
Any good natured and well-trained dog can qualify as a therapy dog and be certified by one of the national agencies. There are no size or breed restrictions A dog can be as small as a pomeranian or as big as a great dane and make a fine therapy dog. With permission, the smaller ones can sit in laps or on beds. The tall dogs can stay on the floor and be reached from a bed or wheelchair.
Therapy dogs must be tested for obedience and a friendly disposition--as well as tested to be sure that sudden noises and surprises don't cause them to lose their composure. They must also pass observations in actual clinical situations before being certified. Therapy dogs and their handlers are certified as teams, and the handlers must demonstrate control of the dog.
Certifying organizations do not discriminate on the basis of breed. Contrary to myth, there are no naturally vicious breeds, only cruel and irresponsible owners. In fact, the national head of our own therapy dog organization makes her calls with two large and gentle pit bulls. For my own part, I am glad to introduce the wonderful doberman breed to new admirers.
Stonewall is my fifth doberman. Every one of them has been friendly toward people and reliably gentle with children. They have
all been rescue adoptions, and have repaid me with lifelong devotion.
The red jacket is optional, but serves to remind Stonewall that he is on duty.
THERAPY DOGS, INC. is the national agency that certifies us as a therapy team. They have been very helpful and supportive.
Certification by TDI is straightforward and inexpensive.
There is a $25 fee. A local tester/observer tests for disposition and obedience, followed by 3 observations in a clinical or care-giving setting. Formal obedience training is good but is not required, and there are no other charges except a vets proof of rabies vaccination and good health. We have found TDI pleasant to work with and their local tester has been most helpful.
If you are interested in adopting a fine dog, check out the links on our
or go directly to PETFINDER.COM
where you can have an interactive search that takes your own preferences and covers the region.
for a look at a remarkable therapy dog at work. This sweet soul is over 19 years old and can no longer walk but is still carried in to comfort patients who are near death.