Stanley rolls around on the floor and chews on a squeaky toy while zombie-like law students wander in, a giant grin breaking out on their weary faces when they see the cuddly pup. Puppy therapy — just in time for finals week.
We all know how dogs can turn out to be miracle workers of sorts. Coming home after a long and stressful day only to be greeted by your ever happy dog is one of the biggest pleasures that life can bring. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that these bundles of joy are also therapeutic and used in hospitals to treat various patients. The above example is just one of the many stories of canine therapy. Dog therapy was officially initiated during World War II and has since been a very popular mode of healing. During the war, a dog named Smoky owned by a Corporal William Wynne was used for therapy. Smoky began as a therapy dog when Wynne was hospitalised for a jungle disease and soon became popular with other soldiers. Levinson coined the term pet therapy in 1964, and his work is considered the birth of animal-assisted therapy. Elaine Smith officially started animal therapy .Therapy dogs have since been used to treat various disorders including emotional and speech conditions.
One boy confided in the gentle-faced golden retriever about exactly what happened in his classroom at Sandy Hook Elementary School that day—which his parents said was more than he’d been able to share with them. A little girl who hadn’t spoken since the shootings finally started talking to her mother again after petting one of the “comfort dogs.” Groups of teenagers began to open up and discuss their fear and grief with each other as they sat on the floor together, all stroking the same animal.
These were reports that were taken right after the shootings at a school in Newton, Connecticut.
So what makes patients be at such ease with the dogs? To start off, dogs are known to be very good listeners and respond to emotions. They do not judge and will love you unconditionally no matter what. Studies also show that running your fingers through something soft like a dog’s fur brings one comfort. Dogs are also much easier to trust, and the human-canine bond goes decades back. There is a reason dogs are known as the most loyal animals, they give you absolute love even if you don’t retaliate the same way. They are social creatures and welcomes everyone irrespective of societal stigmas. There have been many studies conducted examining the behaviour of dogs and they have all come to more or less the same conclusion, dog emotions are uncomplicated and they are fiercely loyal, they offer a non – verbal stress release which is why they are the best animals for therapy.
But not all dogs can become therapists, they go through strenuous training before they can be certified to work in hospitals. For most dogs training starts when they are puppies itself. A good temperament is very essential for therapy dogs, since they would have to cope with all kinds of situations and patients. They then go through numerous tests and registration before they can officially work with patients and victims. In general, therapy pets should be well-behaved, friendly animals that can be trained to interact with strangers in unusual or distracting situations. They must enjoy human interaction, including lots of petting and cuddling.
Patients who suffer from diseases such as autism often do not trust their counsellors and refuse to interact with them, in such cases it has shown that bringing a dog into the picture becomes extremely beneficial as the canines win over the children’s trust which then passes on to their counsellors.
But dogs, though the most popular, are not the only animals used for therapy. Any domesticated pet who is well behaved is known to bring positive changes in a person’s mental well-being. Dolphin Assisted therapy involves practice of swimming with dolphins. But this form has also received wide spread criticism for keeping dolphins captive. Horseback riding is another form of healing, people describe these lessons as therapeutic for those with special needs. It is known to help in speech as well as physical needs.
Simple things such as love and loyalty make a huge difference in a person’s life and animals are the best example for them. Though animal therapy has been criticised for ‘being too simple’, I believe that it is this that makes it so beautiful. Though medicines and doctors do their duty, animals offer all that they have without expecting anything in return. The stories of animal therapy are heart -warming and inspiring. From being a friend for the disabled to consoling victims of tragedies, animals seem to have done a brilliant job in it all and their adorable faces don’t hurt either!