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Disability News Last Updated: Feb 4, 2015 - 12:35:55 PM

Therapy dogs
Apr 28, 2014 - 2:16:52 PM

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Now that ADA no longer covers emotional support, companion animals for therapy animals, there seems to be a better understanding of what each of these three types of animals are able to provide. One of those is the therapy dog.

Therapy dogs were first used in World War II, when then Corporal William Wynne found a stray dog on the battlefield. The dog was an adult female Yorkshire Terrier and had been abandoned. He started to look after the dog and named her Smoky. Later, when Wynne was hospitalized for a disease he had contracted in the jungle, his friends brought Smoky in to the hospital to visit with him and raise his spirits. What ended up happening was that the dog became a big hit with all the other wounded soldiers, so much so that the commanding officer, Dr. Charles Mayo (of the Mayo Clinic fame) allowed the dog to do rounds and sleep with Wynne on his hospital bed. This was the first recorded “therapy dog” and she continued doing this for 12 years, during and after World War II.

Therapy dogs became more widely known thanks to a registered nurse named Elaine Smith. It was her observation that when the chaplain came to visit patients with his Golden Retriever by his side, the patients’ moods perked right up. Thus, in 1976 she started a training program for therapy dogs to visit various institutional settings. It was then that these therapy dogs were noticed by a variety of professionals, as a way to relieve stress, lower blood pressure, and raise mood. As a result, the demand for therapy dogs began to grow.

Then, in 1982, a woman began a non-profit organization that introduced animal therapy to severely disabled children and homes for the elderly. Inspired by the affects that her dog Freeway had on these people, she bought a van, recruited helpers and found baby animals to be used as therapy animals. It was the work of this woman, by the name of Nancy Stanley, that served to broaden the concept of animal therapy to include “animal assisted therapy” or “pet therapy”. It included cats, rabbits and birds.

So, why does the presence of a therapy animal work to improve mood and overall health? Research suggests that it can temporarily affect the release of neurotransmitters including oxytocin and dopamine. Other less measurable effects include building self-confidence with children who have trouble reading. By reading to a dog, the children seem to relax and focus on the dog and “the reading” rather than worrying about not being able to read well.

So, the difference between a therapy dog and a service dog is that service dogs perform tasks for persons with disabilities and have a legal right to accompany their owners in most settings. Therapy dogs are not trained to do any specific tasks, thus are not protected under the ADA. Some U.S. organizations do allow therapy dogs but require the dog pass the American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen test. In Canada St. John’s Ambulance provides therapy dog certification.

Colleges and universities in the United States bring therapy dogs to campus to help students de-stress. These campus events are often referred to as "Therapy Fluffies", a term coined by Torrey Trust, the original founder of the UC San Diego therapy dog de-stress event.

In 2009, Sharon Franks, shared the idea of bringing therapy dogs to campus with the UC San Diego Office of Student Wellness. Torrey Trust took the lead in bringing the event to UC San Diego in June 2009.

For the past two years HSU has followed suit and allowed two therapy dogs, Mila and Tuula, to come to campus to visit with students during exam time. This has been a great hit with students and organizers alike.

Quotation of the Week
“I think dogs are the most amazing creatures; they give unconditional love. For me they are the role model for being alive.”
Gilda Radner

Comments: Trish-Blair@Redwoods.edu

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