Therapy Dogs Provide Comfort and Help to Patients and Others

Therapy dogs are used in all kinds of situations where people are uncomfortable, in pain, frightened, or just unresponsive. The healing power of pets has been harnessed to provide comfort in hospitals, nursing homes, courts, schools, even hospice situations, where the dogs provide emotional support not only to the patients, but to their families. The dogs and their handlers who form the therapy dog teams give unconditional love, boost self-esteem, and relieve loneliness and boredom.

austin cane BRIDGEHAMPTON, NYJune Golden has seen it happen. Golden, founder of Bright and Beautiful Therapy Dogs Inc., a nationwide organization based in Morris Plains, NJ, has seen dogs work their calming magic on children going through chemotherapy in the hospital, patients in nursing homes, people in psychiatric wards, women in battered women’s shelters, people grieving at funeral homes. They all respond to the loving, friendly, accepting presence of therapy dogs and their handlers. Studies have shown that therapy dogs can lower blood pressure and slow down heart rate, allowing people to relax in uncomfortable situations.

“Remember when you were nervous about reading out loud in grammar school?” asks Golden. “We have dog teams that go into schools to help kids who are self-conscious about their reading. Dogs don’t care! They love it and it instills confidence in the children. It’s a wonderful thing.”

Bright & Beautiful is now teaming with Tails of Hope Foundation and helping its Youth Ambassador K9 Career Program (YAP™) to offer presentations introducing the concept of therapy dogs to young people. Therapy dogs are just one of the possible career and volunteer opportunities with working dogs that are being presented by YAP.

Golden’s organization, which she founded in 1999, is entirely made up volunteers. Dogs and handlers must pass a test to be certified, showing that they are calm and not aggressive and that they can follow their handlers’ wishes, and then the teams are matched with locations to visit. Bright and Beautiful has divisions in states across the country. The Connecticut chapter is currently working on getting regular visits set up in Newtown, CT, using local therapy dogs to help the whole community.

Children are often the focus of the therapy dog teams’ work. Bright and Beautiful dogs work in pediatric wards, schools, Boy and Girl Scout troops, and library programs. “We go into psychiatric wards where we sometimes encounter children,” according to Golden, “And often the children haven’t really spoken to anyone in months. But they’ll sit there and talk to the dog. They’ll have a whole conversation with them!”

Bright and Beautiful has no age limit for its handlers; the only requirement is that a handler who’s 14 or under have a guardian accompany him or her, usually getting certified alongside the youngster and dog. “There are a lot of children who do this as their bar/bat mitzvah project because they want to do community service work,” reports Golden.

One place where therapy dog teams are increasingly called to help children is in court. Courts with therapy dog programs allow abused children to spend time with the dogs before testifying against their abusers. The comfort and confidence gained allows these young victims to find the strength to face a difficult experience.

For more information on Bright & Beautiful Therapy Dogs, contact June Golden at 888-738-5770, or visit www.golden-dogs.org.

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