I worked in the caregiving industry for over 30 years. I had a heart for the elderly and witnessed a lot of loneliness and heartache. It was natural for me to want to take the dogs on visits to care homes. I contacted the activity directors at several locations to set up visit times. This was such a happy experience, to see the joy and love the dogs brought to the people. Our entire family would often go with all the dogs. It was a blessing for each of us.
When I began working at a cancer clinic, I thought it would be a great place to take the dogs. The first visit was amazing. Sad faces turned to joy. Scared faces turned to smiles as people petted and loved on the dogs. When I worked at the cancer clinic, our dog visits became a regular practice. One cancer patient said, “There is no medicine they could ever come up with that could take the place of what these dogs do for people.”
What do dogs do for people? Why does animal therapy work?
There are three main reasons animal therapy works. The first is called comfort contact. Studies have proven that petting a dog is calming and can lower blood pressure. We discovered this to be true when we were asked to bring a dog to visit a young man in the hospital who was recovering from brain cancer surgery. The day we arrived his blood pressure was high, and the doctor was having trouble getting it stabilized. When our dog, Shadrach, saw this young man in the hospital bed he jumped right in, and after some time of hugs and love, the young man’s blood pressure stabilized. The doctor was totally amazed.
The second reason animal therapy works is distraction. The dog brings a distraction from a person’s illness, pain, sadness, loneliness, and fears. The dog can also bring back fond memories of a special pet they had at one time. One lady in a care facility wrapped her arms around the dog’s neck and said over and over, “I love you, I love you, I love you!” Perhaps a memory was sparked of a dog she once had.
Another lady, lying in her bed in skilled nursing said, “I want your dog. I want to move back home with your dog and live there; just me and the dog!”
Why do people connect this way with the dogs? It is because of the number three reason dog therapy works. Dogs love unconditionally. They don’t ask questions, they don’t care if you are young or old, sick or in a bed or a wheelchair. They just love you. It creates a freedom of expressing one’s emotions. When loving on the dogs some people laugh and some people cry.
No matter what they are going through the dog has enabled them to feel free. There are no questions to answer, no advice to give or new instructions. The dog becomes their sounding board. A cancer patient who fell and broke several bones, including both arms was in the hospital recovering and asked for a dog visit. She said, “I wasn’t able to pet Shadrach, but he understood and just sat by me and I talked to him for a half hour! He also gave me the courage to walk down the hallway, something I was afraid to do. He stayed by my side the entire time.”
We not only made contacts with several nursing facilities, but we also posted pictures of our visits on Facebook which brought more attention to our services. We began to get requests for private home visits as well as school classrooms, business luncheons, and church youth groups. We also give presentations on Service and therapy dogs. The more presentations and visits we do the more requests we receive. Regardless of where we go, it’s a joy, and we are happy to accommodate as many people as we can. If someone needs us, we go.