Imagine you’re in the hospital with an illness that has you stuck in bed. You’re in a lot of pain and every day brings its own set of uncertainties and challenges. Friends and family sift in and out, and the hospital staff makes its rounds, but being in the hospital is something that you, and you alone, have to deal with.
Enter: Dixie, a four-year old Golden Retriever hospital therapy dog with the silkiest coat and sweetest face.
Dixie is visiting with her handler, and she comes to your bedside and puts her head close to yours. She looks into your eyes with such compassion that, for a moment, you forget where you are and how terrible you feel. She shifts her body so that you can stroke her soft fur, and she gently leans into you. It’s a small act. A kind act. But it makes you feel immeasurably better.
Such is the job of a therapy dog, and more and more, hospitals, rehabs, nursing homes, and institutions are using them to do their unique healing work.
What is a hospital therapy dog?
A therapy dog is a dog that’s trained to provide comfort and affection to children and adults, through volunteer visits with their handler. By nature, they are calm, loving, friendly, and sociable, and they can be any type of breed if the dog has the right temperament. Unlike service dogs, who directly assist individuals with disabilities in their day to day tasks, the job of a therapy dog is to help many different people who are staying in hospitals or retirement homes feel happier and healthier, and their results are pretty impressive.
What are the health benefits of hospital therapy dogs?
These four-footed therapists not only provide an emotional boost to the people they visit, but their presence has important physiological benefits, too. Research shows that visits from therapy dogs can help reduce a patient’s blood pressure and increase their level of natural “feel-good” chemicals in the brain, like the neurotransmitter endorphin, and the hormone oxytocin. By simply being present—whether for a snuggle, a pat, a walk, or an embrace—therapy dogs help the people they serve in mind, body, and spirit.
|It’s not just hospitals or retirement homes taking note of these benefits, either. On some college campuses, therapy dogs are brought in during examination weeks to help the students relax and perform at their best. At Harvard Medical School, there’s Cooper the Shih-Tzu, a resident therapy dog in the library who can be “booked” for short, 30 minute sessions by students. (Learn more about Cooper on his blog.)
Even the Army uses therapy dogs for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and recently the FBI added Dolce, a very special German Shephard/Siberian Husky mix to their team, to help comfort victims and their families dealing with awful crimes like murder and kidnapping. Therapy dogs have also been used to ease the suffering of victims in natural disasters, like Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy, and in the wake of tragedies like 9/11, the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School and the Boston Marathon bombing.
Can my dog be a therapy dog?
Does your dog have stellar manners and a super friendly and sweet nature? Maybe you think your furry friend would make an excellent hospital therapy dog, but first ask yourself this question: Do you, as a handler, think you can be comfortable in settings where children and adults can be gravely ill, or have emotional problems or disabilities? If the answer is yes and you feel called to help those in need along with your exceptional pet, then consider the initial requirements for therapy dog certification.
Therapy dogs must:
- Be at least one year of age
- Be good around other dogs
- Listen to their handlers
- Allow strangers to touch them all over
- Not jump on people when interacting
- Walk on a leash without pulling
- Not mind strange noises and smells
- Not be afraid of people who walk unsteadily, or with assistance
- Be current on all vaccines
- Be healthy and clean and well groomed
If this sounds like your dog, you can visit one of the following national therapy dog registration/certification organizations to learn more and see if it’s a good match for you, and your dog.
Bright and Beautiful Therapy Dogs
Delta Society Pet Partners Program
Therapy Dogs Incorporated
|Does your local hospital have a Therapy Dog Program?
Let us know and they could get free Dog Tag Art custom dog tags!
We’re proud to support our local therapy dogs at Mission Hospital through the Paws on a Mission program, and have provided them with free custom dog tags. If you have a therapy dog program in your area, we’d love to hear from you! Please use the contact form on our website to find out how we can donate our special dog therapy pet ID tags to the amazing therapy canines in your hometown.
|Kathleen McCafferty has never been in the hospital (knock on wood), but if she ever ends up in one, she hopes to have a visit from a hospital therapy dog like Dixie. At home, she's got Ira G, her six-year-old terrier pup to keep her company. Ira rocks his custom dog tag from Dog Tag Art every single day, making him all the more handsome. Together, Kathleen and Ira enjoy going to the creek, playing disc golf, and eating coconut popsicles.