There’s something about a friendly dog that can lift your spirits. Whether it’s their gentleness, their playfulness or just petting their fur, dogs make for anyone’s best friend. They bring lots of love and a companionship that provides consolation. And for those who are grieving the loss of a loved one, sometimes there’s just nothing better than the silent support of a therapy dog.
How Therapy Dog Support Can Help
Interacting with a dog has a positive health impact on the human body – it lowers blood pressure and releases endorphins that have a calming effect on people. When people are with a therapy dog, they tend to focus on the dog and their grief is set aside for a short while. Dogs give people a chance to take a break from their biggest worries and put their attention on something that will always provide unconditional love. They are friendly, loyal and love you just the way you are – sad, happy, hungry, foolish… whatever the day brings.
Spicer-Mullikin’s grief specialist, Heather Suchanec-Cooper, has counseled people who agree that simply living with a dog offers the companionship they need. “Owning a pet keeps people engaged in living life and provides them with a compassionate companion which helps to combat loneliness and isolation,” said Suchanec-Cooper. “They also provide a structure to each day. They get out of bed knowing they have a creature that depends on them and motivates them to start their day. By caring for their pet they engage in the steps involved in self-care: preparing breakfast, getting dressed in order to go out for a walk, walking (exercise), grooming, vet (doctor) appointments. The person and the dog both get what they are craving: unconditional love.”
How Therapy Dogs are Trained
Because all that is required is an even temperament and a surplus of love and affection, many breeds make great therapy dogs. Therapy dogs should not be confused with service dogs, which are required to perform tasks for the people with whom they are partnered.
Breeds that are known to be gentle and loving (Golden and Labrador retrievers tend to be the most popular breeds) – make for the best ‘dog therapy candidates.’ They can be easily trained for:
- Basic obedience (sit, down, stay, walk on a loose lead)
- Relaxation and control
- Gentle exercises
- Socialization exercises with other dogs and people
Each dog is led by a volunteer who is committed to the training as well as to taking the dogs to therapeutic visits.
Where to Find A Therapy Dog
Spicer-Mullikin has been honored to work in partnership with Paws for People since 2012 at our annual Hope for the Holidays program. The dogs are on-hand to mingle with attendees and help support them throughout the day. If you’re thinking that you would like to find a therapy dog for you or someone you know, here’s where to start:
New Castle County has several therapy dog programs – in hospitals, nursing homes, senior centers, schools and libraries. Search online to find a dog therapy organization located nearest to you. If you’re a cat lover, there are therapy cats too. But dogs rule. Paws down.
(Photo caption: A German Shepherd from ‘Paws for People’ in Newark, Del, visits with attendees from Spicer-Mullikin’s Hope for the Holidays program)