Last week I discussed Assistance Dogs, a.k.a. Service Dogs. They are dogs that are specifically trained to assist a person with a disability, as defined by The Americans with Disabilities Act. This week's article is about another very special type of dog, known as a Therapy Dog.
Simply stated, a Therapy Dog is a dog which provides comfort to people. They also receive training, but it has a completely different type of focus. Their key responsibility is to provide psychological therapy to an individual. Children typically enjoy hugging animals. Adults usually prefer to do the calming repetitive motions of petting or stroking. For the people these animals go to visit, the desired outcome is that they feel emotionally supported.
Therapy dogs come in all sizes and shapes, but they all have shared qualities. They exhibit behavior that is predictable, friendly, and confident, even in new settings. Since they might have to be lifted onto a person’s lap or bed and lay or sit there contentedly for a set amount of time, they are comfortable with human interaction and are calm in demeanor. Their body posture is relaxed and they remain tranquil in a variety of situations. In addition, they enjoy being petted, hugged, and touched, even if during those times the hands doing it are awkward and clumsy. They display remarkably good manners and do not display extreme nervousness or shyness.
Unlike service dogs, when they are working therapy dogs are encouraged to interact with a wide variety of people and be accepting of differences in various people's behavior and reactions. These animals provide comfort to people in hospitals, hospice environments, convalescent homes, psychotherapy offices, assisted living facilities, disaster areas, etc., and to people with learning difficulties. They provide companionship and help relieve the feelings of loneliness, depression, and anxiety.
While most people are familiar with therapy dogs who visit hospitals to provide emotional therapy, these are not the only environments where they can be beneficial. In hospice environments, they play a crucial role in reducing anxiety about dying. They also visit schools, day care centers and rehab centers to assist in the building of self-confidence. At counseling centers, they provide a comforting presence to victims of domestic violence. Some universities in the United States bring Therapy Dogs, fondly known as “Therapy Fluffies”, on campus to help students de-stress. In fact, these “Therapy Fluffies” have visited the UC Davis campus the week before both midterm and finals, since 2010.
If you would like to make a difference in someone’s life by sharing your dog with them, there are opportunities here in Northern California. There are two local area organizations I have had the opportunity to become acquainted with that can train and certify both you and your dog. The first organization is Prescription Pets a.k.a. Rx:Pets (http://www.prescriptionpets.org/ ) located in Redding. In addition to providing animal assisted therapy, they have expanded their efforts to include the successful R.E.A.D. ® Program (Reading Education Assistance Dogs). The R.E.A.D. program improves children's reading and communication skills by having them read to a Therapy Dog. As a side note, not too long ago, a P.E.T.S. volunteer adopted a stray dog from the Tehama County Animal Care Center. He passed the Canine Good Citizen test and both he and his guardian became certified. They are now part of the Rx:Pets team. The other organization is Independent Therapy Dogs, Inc. (https://sites.google.com/site/idtdinc/home ) whose two local trainer/ evaluators are located in Anderson and can often be found working with the canines at Haven Humane Society.
Whatever organization you choose, the dogs will be required to meet their standards in order to be certified and insured by them. Their guardians usually handle the dogs, but in some cases of Animal Assisted Therapy, a qualified professional might manage them. It is also important to note that, despite training and certification, Therapy Dogs do not have the same legal rights as Service Dogs as outlined under Titles II and III of the 1990 Code of Federal Regulations for the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Improving the lives of people, whether it is helping a child who is learning to read or providing comfort to a patient in a hospital, is what Therapy Dogs are all about.