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Put Your Dog to Work!


JUST SAYIN’-If you have ever been to a hospital, you have probably seen a dog or two (of various sizes and types) walking down the aisles or hanging out at the front desk or in waiting rooms.  Undoubtedly, you soon figured out that they were there for a purpose and learned that they were volunteer therapy dogs—performing Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT) or Animal-Assisted Activities (AAA). 

We have long been used to observing seeing-eye dogs accompanying their people everywhere.  Now, Kaiser, Providence, and Children’s Hospital are among a growing number of care centers and clinics that are eagerly using loving pets (including horses, dolphins, cats, guinea pigs, chickens and other birds—depending on what geographical location needs this kind of support) to help alleviate the pain and fear of their patients.  These therapy dogs can be found assisting patients at senior, recreation, and assisted-living centers or at kidney and cancer infusion facilities.  LAX even has a therapy dog program to help reduce anxieties in passengers who are about to embark on a flight. 

These pets are a vital part of numerous school or university programs whose goal is to help children with health issues like autism or cerebral palsy.  Children are more apt to feel comfortable interacting with doggies than with strange people. The pets help them feel more self-confident, increase their self-esteem, and motivate them to work harder to move, even to read.  They assist in occupational, speech, and physical therapies and work with abused children. 

Since the dogs are not judgmental, children and adults can feel better about themselves regardless of their own appearance, whether they have lost all their hair or have terrible burns, or have lost a leg or arm or cannot talk.  And suddenly the ugly dog is no longer ugly either.  Dogs have taught children how to walk.  They have infinite patience—far more than most humans—and are willing to work endlessly with their charges. 

These pet interactions can bring down blood pressure and even cholesterol.  Seniors struggling with onset dementia often find their memories stimulated by the pet therapists and, as a result, begin to remember things that they had long forgotten.  

The inception of this kind of program was really accidental.  During World War II, a soldier brought his own pet terrier to a hospital to cheer wounded warriors there.  What he started became so popular that he continued performing this service for the next 12 years.  And eventually, the concept caught on and is spreading throughout the world, our country, and Los Angeles. 

Have you ever found yourself petting and stroking your little friend until the fur is about to fall off?  You feel calmer, more relaxed—your anxieties seem to float away.  The pet therapy program “provides a much-needed opportunity to give affection as well as receive it. . . .  This reciprocity . . . is a unique and valuable route to healing” for a vast variety of patients who are often lonely and isolated and in need of a little extra love. 

My little Barney and I used to volunteer at a nearby hospital.  The staff and other workers loved him.  Some nurses even offered him back rubs, knowing the stress that such animals feel as they interact with patients, many of whom these dogs seem to know will soon die.  It was wonderful seeing how the patients interacted with the animals and how happy the animals are, in turn, to see the pleasure in their faces.  The sick are eager for return visits (until for a variety of reasons, they are no longer there).  The pets are so patient, particularly when children or the old grab them, often inartfully, because these “little people” seem to sense how much good their presence does. 

In Barney’s case, I realized that he was taking on their pain, having developed somewhat of a synergistic relationship with them.  Eventually, he would come home and have to recuperate for a day or two.  I thought that that process was a little unfair to him, so we eventually stopped our participation, but other animals do it for years until they are too old or too weak to carry on. 

“The human-animal bond is a unique interaction.”  And let us not forget the effect these little guys have on the extended family and the friends who are an essential part of the picture—responsible in large part for how well and how soon the patient recovers. 

For those of you who are not animal lovers, perhaps you will want to reconsider your position.  For those of you who are, contemplate making both you and them a part of these wonderful and most satisfying programs. 

Just sayin”.


● Contact the following at their respective websites to get you and your dog involved:

Love on 4 Paws; Paws 4 Healing; Pets with Purpose—just some examples


(Rosemary Jenkins is a Democratic activist and chair of the Northeast Valley Green Alliance. Jenkins has written Leticia in Her Wedding Dress and Other Poems, A Quick-and-Easy Reference to Correct Grammar and Composition and Vignettes for Understanding Literary and Related Concepts.  She also writes for CityWatch.)




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Vol 12 Issue 60

Pub: Jul 25, 2014



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