History of Therapy Dogs
During World War II an American Soldier found a young Yorkshire terrier abandoned on a battlefield and named her Smokey. When this young soldier was hospitalized for a jungle disease Smokey was brought in to visit him. Smokey immediately became a hit with the other wounded soldiers. Smokey continued her therapy work for 12 years.
Elaine Smith, a registered nurse noticed how well patients responded to visits by a chaplain that brought his dog with him to the hospital. In 1976 she started a program for training dogs to visit hospitals. Over the years other health care professionals have noticed the therapeutic effect of animal companionship. The demand for therapy dogs has increased in recent years. This concept has now widened to include other animals like cats, rabbits, birds etc.
What is a Therapy Dog?
There is often some confusion between the terms Therapy Dog, Assistance Dog, Service Dog, Hearing Dog and Guide Dog.
An Assistance Dog is a dog that has been trained to help a person with a disability in daily life. Many of these dogs are trained by a specific organization while others are trained by their handler (sometimes with the help of a professional trainer)
There are three types of Assistance Dogs
1. Guide Dog for people with site handicaps
2. Service Dog for people who need assistance in their daily routine such as retrieving objects, pulling wheelchairs, opening and closing doors, turning light switches on and off, barking an alert, providing assistance walking or balancing and any other tasks a disabled person would require.
3. Hearing or Signal Dogs are trained to assist people with hearing disabilities.
Therapy Dog refers to a dog that has been trained to provide affection and comfort, alleviate mental anguish and pain for people in hospitals, retirement homes, nursing homes, mental institutions, schools and stressful situations such as disaster areas. Therapy Dogs are also called “Visiting Pets” or “Therapy Pets”. A therapy dog can increase the livelihood, reduce stress, invigorate people who lack vigor and help to cheer up those who need some cheer and laughter in their lives.
Dogs that are used for formal treatment programs, usually involve one dog/hander team and one client in physical therapy clinics, rehabilitation center and mental health care facilities are called Animal Assisted Therapy Dogs or Animal Assisted Activities Dog.
The benefits of using therapy dogs are numerous and beyond monetary compensation. The dog gets to enjoy the company of many people who enjoy having a loving animal to interact with without the barriers of language, cultural norms of codes of conduct.
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