It’s no secret that animals are special. We treat our pets as our children, providing them the same love, affection, care and attention that we give to those in our family. The innocence of animals and their ability to love makes them special. Human beings want to be part of their world, to connect with them in a mysterious and powerful way that will strengthen and nurture both humans and animals.
That animals feel our pain, our joy, and our stress should come as no surprise for anyone who has a pet. Whether we recognize it or not, the emotional as well as the physical environment we humans create has a direct impact on the way our pets behave. Animals allow people to focus, even if for a short period of time, on something other than themselves.
Even to those who don’t – or can’t – own a pet, there are many benefits to simply interacting with one on a regular basis:
- Pets are an antidote to depression. Many elderly people battle with depression and therapy animals help combat this common problem.
- Pets provide social interaction. In a healthcare facility or at home, people come out of their rooms to socialize with the animals and with each other.
- Everyone has the need to touch. Many humans are uncomfortable hugging or touching strangers, even those close to them. Some people are alone and have no hands to hold, no bodies to hug. But rubbing the fur of a cat or dog can provide a stimulation that is sorely lacking. The nonverbal connection is invaluable in the healing process.
- Pets are a source of expectation, hope and communication. Looking forward to a social call or getting home after time away gives that spark of anticipation all humans need to help feel alive. Pets can help start a conversation.
Arkansas Hospice recognizes the positive influence that therapy dogs can have on patients and, as a result, has a thriving, volunteer-based therapy dog program.
Not to be confused with service dogs, therapy dogs help patients by simply visiting them. These special dogs have an ability to connect with and bring joy to all kinds of people, even those who are normally unresponsive or disconnected from their environments. Good therapy dogs are quick learners with loving, easy-going personalities and can stay calm in unusual or stressful situations.
The first time a dog prances into a hospice center, most people do a double take. A split second later, broad smiles stretch across faces. Regardless of how patients look or how they feel, the animals are happy to see them. Those who stay in a hospice center truly benefit from the unconditional love and acceptance provided by therapy dogs. Typically, there is an immediate response to the tail wagging, greetings and warm paws.
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Editor’s Note: Sally was the first-ever Arkansas Hospice Therapy Dog … and like so many other firsts in our lives, she will always be remembered and held close. Carol Satre, her handler, was instrumental in gaining our initial Therapy Pet access to patients in Arkansas Hospice’s Little Rock Center. For more information on therapy dogs, contact Therapy Dogs International, Inc. at 973-252-9800 (www.tdi-dog.org). For volunteering in an Arkansas Hospice center with your dog, call Harriet at 1-877-257-3400.