A therapy dog, with it’s simple act of visiting hospitals, retirement homes, nursing homes and schools provide comfort just by being there. Recently therapy dogs provided comfort to hundreds displaced by the wildfires in California. The mere presence of a dog uplifts people’s spirits. People confined to hospitals and nursing homes appreciate the company of furry friends. Many animals add to the experience by performing tricks for the eager audience.
The promotion of therapy dogs is attributed to registered nurse Elaine Smith. While working in England, Elaine noted the reaction to well patients by the dog of a regularly visiting Chaplin. After moving back to the United States in 1976, Elaine started a program to train dogs for use in public settings. It did take the medical community long to notice the positive affects these dogs had on the patients they visited. The use of animals as a therapeutic tool is not just limited to dogs but includes cats, rabbits, birds and other animals.
Obviously temperament of these dogs is important as they visit strange people and places. Many organizations now provide training and act as a resource for organizations looking for trained animals to come and visit their facilities. Training for these dogs includes dealing with loud unexpected sounds and relating to strangers in unfamiliar locations. Trained dogs should be identified so that others don’t mistake these special dogs as merely pets.
It should be noted that although therapy dogs do provide a service to people, they are not Service Animals. “Service Animals” is a definition designated by the American with Disabilities Act (ADA). Under the ADA law service animals are animals trained to perform specific acts for a person with a disability. Service Animals have legal rights to accompany their partner in any public location. Also these animals can not be charged extra fees such as for hotels, air travel and housing.
These four legged ambassadors and their volunteer partners bring joy and comfort to others and deserve our thanks for their hard work.