There is no greater therapy than the love of a dog. Everyday around the world millions of people experience the amazing bond between humans and dogs. This is what the basis of what is becoming such a powerful mode of therapy for many people in long term health care facilities, nursing homes and hospitals.
Animals have been recognized as being a positive influence when it comes to lowering blood pressure, improving feelings of loneliness, reducing depression and raising self esteem. Some studies have shown people who are around dogs have lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels than someone who is not exposed to a dog. The fact is, dogs have a calming and therapeutic effect on people.
When a dog visits a health care facility, everyone benefits from their presence. The residence and/or patients, the staff as well as the visitors are affected by the special magic these furry friends bring to their facility. Life in a long term care facility can be lonely and often boring for some residence. A visit from a dog breaks up the daily routine and these magnificent creatures have an un-caning ability to stimulate the mind in dramatic ways.
Different types of Therapy Dogs
There are two recognizable types of Therapy Dogs. The most common are the dogs that are used for visiting nursing homes, long term health care facilities, hospitals and schools. These dogs are called, ” Therapeutic Visitation Dogs”. The second type is known as “Animal Assisted Therapy Dogs” . This classification of Therapy Dog is used for people who may have mental or physical illnesses.
As of 2007, there are approximately 18,000 Therapy Dogs registered with an organization called Therapy Dogs International. This volunteer organization is dedicated to regulating, testing and registration of therapy dogs and their volunteer handlers for the purpose of therapeutic visitations. In Canada, the most recognizable organization which evaluates and tests potential Therapy Dogs is called St. Johns Ambulance. In 2007, this volunteer organization had 2300 dogs registered in their program and they visited an estimated 68,000 patients which translated into approximately 146,000 volunteer hours. There are a number of facilities around the country that also specializes in training people and their family dog to become a Therapy Dog team.
How to recognize a Therapy Dog
These dogs are usually recognized by a colored vest, cape or jacket with a special patch sewn onto the garment. In Canada, the St. Johns Ambulance Therapy Dog program uses a special bandana and an identification card which indicates the dog has been tested and certified. Each province or state may have their own method of identifying a Therapy Dog team. It may include many of the fore mentioned apparel or ID cards and/or the handler may wear a special vest or shirt indicating they are a qualified team.
A Therapy Dog that is recognized as a “Therapeutic Visitation Dog” does not have the same access privileges as the “Animal Assisted Therapy Dogs”. In the United States, check with your local government officials or visit the American’s With Disabilities Act website. In Canada, visit the Blind Persons Rights Act or the Canadian Human Rights Commission website.
How You Can Make A Difference
You can make a huge difference in the lives of many people, by becoming a volunteer Therapy Dog handler. You will learn and appreciate the special bond you have with your own dog and at the same time you will be contributing to the health and well being of many people who could use the positive influence of a dog. Contact your local training or testing facility to find out how you and your canine companion could make a difference as a Therapy Dog team.