Posted By: Shopprice South Africa
Patients who suffer from physical and emotional disorders can benefit from the unconditional love of therapeutic dogs.
Late last year, a close friend of mine, Elijah Bolante, seemed to disappear off the face of the earth. I didn’t see him at school, he rarely surfaced on social media and he’d only offer short texts when prompted. He told me that everything was okay, but I wasn’t sure about that; he’d been out of class for a long time. After enough of my prodding, he finally confided that he’d been admitted to the hospital: He was suffering from depression and social anxiety.
Just over a month later, Elijah re-emerged, on the other side of his struggle. One day, as we were walking through a frozen Brampton park, he told me about a session he’d had with a therapeutic dog while in the hospital. Therapy with a dog? I’d heard about service animals visiting patients in hospitals, but not this; I wanted to hear more.
Elijah told me that, with his therapy group at the hospital, he had spent time with Cooper, a Bernese mountain dog. “He was a huge dog!” he says. “Cooper tried to engage with the patients—I’ve never seen a dog that friendly. He made you feel like he trusted you.” Many in Elijah’s group perked up when Cooper arrived. Others were nervous at first, but they eventually warmed up to him. Elijah says it took him a minute to get comfortable, too, but just by having Cooper in the room, he felt in better spirits.
Marni, a recreational therapist for adult mental health at the William Osler Health System, works often with Cooper and says the dog is quite intuitive and friendly. “Cooper has a tendency to seek out patients who seem more timid,” says Marni. “He has a way of sitting on their feet and being calm. The majority of the time, the patient will reach out and interact in some minimal way.” This is the beginning of a patient opening up and getting involved in the therapy. In Elijah’s case, Cooper apparently got up on the couch and towered above him—it must have been a memorable first impression.
The dog therapy program
The William Osler Health System has partnered with St. John’s Ambulance and Therapeutic Paws of Canada to provide a dog therapy program to support patients at Brampton Civic Hospital and Etobicoke General Hospital in Ontario. Eight service dogs contribute to a nonjudgmental environment during therapy sessions that help to calm and relax patients. Deanna, a recreational therapist for inpatient rehabilitation at the William Osler Health System, has noticed an especially positive impact on patients who are recovering from a stroke. “The patients I see that really benefit are the ones who have had one side of their body affected,” says Deanna. She’s also had several patients who have lost the ability to communicate or express themselves, a predicament that is extremely difficult to manage. When interacting with a dog, however, these patients don’t get frustrated. They don’t feel the pressure to have a conversation or the upset of forgetting a word. “You see a whole different demeanor come out in the patient; I’ve had patients cry and smile at the same time.”
Marni adds that many studies have found that petting a dog can also help lower blood pressure. “It does a lot to decrease patients’ anxiety,” she says. “Many patients have their own pets at home that they miss, so it helps them to fill that void. I have a patient who got down on the ground, gave the dog a hug and said, ‘Thank you, you just made me forget all my problems.’” Therapeutic dogs can help comfort, provide a sense of calm and offer moments of happiness to patients who are struggling.
Providing comfort in court
Service dogs can also help people who are experiencing distress while in court. In a May 2015 trial in Vancouver, a young girl was able to testify about being sexually assaulted thanks to Caber, a golden retriever police dog. Caber rested at the girl’s feet while she gave testimony; when she became upset, she’d often reach down to pet him, finding the courage to continue.
My favourite breed of dog has always been the Bernese, and after hearing about Elijah’s therapy session with Cooper, my appreciation for them has only deepened. During the session, Elijah says he felt better—more relaxed and less anxious—and it left him wanting a dog of his own. But for now, the only pet in his life is a lopsided goldfish with a broken tail fin. He’s back at home, looking forward to finishing a post-secondary program. The dog therapy program most certainly helped Elijah get well; I’ve noticed he’s more confident than before and taking better care of himself. Therapeutic dogs have the potential to help thousands of people like Elijah, who need a little extra comfort as they recover from challenging times.