Therapy Dogs: Man’s best friend becomes man’s best medicine
April 23, 2018
Therapy dogs visit patients in hospitals to boost moral, help with physical therapy and provide a medicine that doctors can’t.
Phoenix Children’s Hospital is one of many hospitals that offers Animal Assisted Therapy. The dogs will come in for the children to pet them, and the parents have agreed that it does wonders for their children.
“It’s been great for him,” says Tim Beal, whose son had a heart transplant. “It’s really boosted his spirits. It’s kind of been an uplifting moment for him. And we’re dog people, so when they come in, you can see him cheer up a little bit and definitely feel a little bit better.”
Keri Mosier’s daughter, a patient in the hospital, is another big fan of the therapy dogs. Her mother says her face lights up as she realizes the knock on the door means she’s getting a visit from a pup.
Program Coordinator for Animal Assisted Therapy Mary Lou Jennings says it’s not only beneficial for the patient, but for the whole family. Her son was in the hospital for a long amount of time so she says she understands some of what these parents are feeling. The dogs can be a crucial part to helping patient outcomes.
“There’s something that happens when a patient interacts with a therapy dog where they sort of forget about what might be hurting or what they think is going to hurt when they start moving,” Jennings says.
The dogs can also help with physical therapy on top of providing a moral boost. Many patients are discouraged to try walking again or testing the status of another physical disability, but the dogs are natural cheerleaders. They forget about the idea of whether or not they are able to do something, and they want to play with the dog.
Wendy Borst, a pet therapist, says it takes about a year to train the dogs and get them certified to be a therapy animal. They are evaluated for simple commands – and sometimes more advanced commands, depending on what they are being trained for. They are also tested to see how they interact with walkers, wheelchairs, loud noises and stressful situations.
The animals also provide help for those who may suffer from PTSD. Therapy dogs were waiting at the front of the school as Parkland students returned for their first day back since the shooting. They were there to comfort 9/11 survivors and those who experienced deadly storms.
“I think my favorite part of working with animals is their willingness to please for so little in return,” Borst says. “Their nature is so true and good, and they kind of remind us everyday to be as good of a person as they think we are.”