A therapy dog is truly a special breed of animal. Unlike service dogs, which are used to help people with a specific disability, therapy dogs are specially trained and credentialed to provide love, support and comfort to people in hospitals, retirement and nursing homes, hospices and disaster areas. They’re trained to ignore loud noises, unfamiliar smells and other dogs. They must learn to stay away from people who don’t want to be bothered, yet be friendly and comfortable around strangers.
Surprising Health Benefits
Therapy dogs do far more than just cheer people up when they’re not feeling well. They actually provide a number of tangible health benefits as noted by Michele L. Morrison, MS, RN, ANP, HNP, CHHC. The simple act of petting a therapy dog can reduce a person’s heart rate, anxiety or stress, which in turn lowers their blood pressure. A study published in the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses revealed that a 12-minute hospital visit with a therapy dog improved hemodynamic measures, lowered neurohormone levels, and decreased anxiety in patients with advanced heart failure. Petting can help reduce levels of epinephrine and norepinephrine, neurotransmitters that can elevate heart rate, blood pressure, glucose levels. On the other side of the body’s chemistry, therapy dogs can elevate a person’s endorphin levels, the “natural opiates” that can help reduce the perception of pain or stress. They can also raise one’s oxytocin levels, hormones that women need for breastfeeding, sexual reproduction, and other maternal behaviors.
A Heartwarming Exception to the “Golden“ Rule
While Golden Retrievers are often used as therapy dogs — because of their calm demeanor, gentle disposition, and overall friendliness with strangers, there are exceptions, as one California couple happily discovered. “We were looking for a service dog to help with my wife’s disability,” said Frank. “…but were dismayed to learn that the average cost, starting at $10,000, and a waiting list of over a year was typical for this type of dog.” The couple visited the Ojai California Animal Shelter in search of a dog with just the right characteristics and personality to match their needs. “That’s when we found Jamy, a Corgi/Beagle mix with a loving, intelligent and laid-back personality.” After adopting Jamy, the couple enrolled her in obedience classes in preparation for the required AKC canine Good Citizen Test. After three months of intensive classes and in-home training, Jamy passed the test. Jamy has since been a blessing to others as a Therapy Dog, uplifting the spirits of patients in local nursing homes, as well as acting as an excellent “service dog” for Frank and his wife. “Jamy has positively impacted our lives and has given priceless support to my wife’s quality of life for now and for years to come,” said Frank. “As for Jamy, she has received a loving and appreciative home and has become a valued member of our family.”