Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT), particularly the use of therapeutic dogs, has gained popularity over the last 35 years. Today it is widely recognized that animal companionship can have a positive impact on social/emotional and physical health and it has become common-place to see trained therapy dogs in hospitals, hospice, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, rehabilitation centers and schools. Those who particularly benefit from AAT include the ill, elderly, children, veterans and those suffering from PTSD.
According to the website of Therapy Dogs International, “A body of research suggests that interactions with therapy dogs can temporarily affect the release of various neurotransmitters in the brain that increase feelings of bonding and reward, and decrease stress. Dogs have the ability to help calm and soothe agitated individuals while lifting the spirits of those who are sad and lonely. They provide a medium for physical touch and display affection for those who feel most alone. Therapy dogs elicit responses from some nursing home patients who are typically withdrawn and limited in their abilities. Stroking a dog leads to more movement from the patient and consequently, increased physical activity.”
The Pets for Vets website lists the many benefits of AAT including lowered heart rate and blood pressure, decreased anxiety, improved relaxation, emotional connection and reality orientation. It brightens mood, provides a healthy outlet for positive touch, serves as a diversion when pain or discomfort are present, fosters nurturing and play and provides emotional support to family members and staff. Therapy dogs can also assist and motivate patients in specific, goal-oriented activities such as walking down the hall as part of a physical therapy routine.
Patty Bollenbeck is an administrative assistant with Family Resource Home Care and she and her dog, Sami, have been a certified therapy team for four years. They’ve visited senior living and memory care environments, school classrooms for challenged youth, and participated in bite prevention programs for kids. “All our visits are rewarding but our passion is visiting with seniors,” says Patty. “During one visit with Sami, I remember approaching a lady in a wheelchair who had been crying all morning. I held Sami up and she licked the lady’s hand. The lady
started petting her and smiled; then giggled as Sami licked her hand again. Sami’s visit was able to turn the whole day around for this lovely lady.” Patty is also a board member and trainer/examiner for Project Canine, a Seattle based non-profit dedicated to AAT training and certification. There is more information about utilizing trained therapy animals and about becoming a trained therapy team at the Project Canine website: www.projectcanine.org.