New studies emerge regularly, allowing us to better understand a variety of illnesses. With this new knowledge comes a plethora of options for helping patients and their families cope with these illnesses. In recent years, one of the more intriguing therapies has become a popular practice. This form of therapy is known as the “therapy dog”, which utilizes a dog to offer comfort and support to those in distress. The therapy dog is specially trained to bring warmth and affection to ill or troubled individuals in nursing homes, hospitals, shelters, and victims of natural disasters.
Though therapy dogs provide a valuable service to people, they are not considered “service dogs”, at least not in the traditional sense of the word. Typically, therapy dogs are not owned by the patients that they help. They make special visits to a multitude of different people. Moreover, they are not recognized under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. The special service provided by therapy dogs is regulated by the individual institutions that they visit. Thus, the hospital, nursing home or other facility may impose specific limitations and requirements on the dogs and their handlers.
Available in a variety of breeds, therapy dogs are chosen based on their personalities. Known for their gentle,¬†affectionate traits, therapy dogs are no strangers to being stroked or harshly petted. These special creatures may visit numerous patients every day and must therefore be at ease with strangers. The primary goal of the therapy dog is to provide physical contact to help those in pain feel somewhat alleviated. In addition, therapy dogs are able to provide a temporary distraction from the person’s situation.
To become a therapy dog requires extensive testing and subsequent accreditation, which is offered by numerous organizations throughout the United States. Safety is a top priority in the field of therapy dogs. So, to determine if the dog is equipped to deal with a variety of situations and people, testing is based on the environments and types of people he is likely to encounter. Only after the dog exhibits a calm, friendly temperament, even in the most stressful situations, is he considered a viable candidate for accreditation.
Unlike people, dogs do not have prejudices or preconceived notions about people, they genuinely want to be useful and have no motives. As such, they are able to offer a unique type of therapy. These talented animals are making a significant difference in the lives of many people in difficult circumstances.