Two weekends ago, my dog Pudge and I went to Dulles Airport. After clearing TSA – it took two trips through the metal detector because of Pudge’s leash – and hopping on a shuttle to the terminal, we spent the next three hours visiting with travelers from all over the world. You see, Pudge is a certified therapy dog and our volunteer organization was invited by an airline to help relax passengers flying over the high-volume spring break weekend.
My favorite thing about this work is the impact the dogs have on people. So many travelers told us how the simple act of petting a dog had made their day and reduced their stress level. The impact can be even more profound in a therapeutic setting, like a hospital or nursing home. Patients will use limbs weakened by stroke just to rub a velvety ear. Seniors suffering from dementia will talk at length about a favorite dog they had growing up.
Research confirms that interacting with dogs can create positive changes in the brain at the biochemical level. As we become more aware of the myriad benefits pets have on our lives, government agencies are partnering with non-profit organizations to implement programs that use this special bond to improve constituents’ lives. Here are just a few examples of these varied initiatives in action:
- Courthouse Canines – An increasing number of courts across the country are using specially-trained therapy dogs to support participants in stressful trials. For example, a courthouse dog may sit in the witness stand to comfort a woman who has to testify against her alleged assailant.
- Puppies Behind Bars – Puppies Behind Bars is one of numerous programs that utilize inmates to raise service, law enforcement, and companion dogs. These ‘prison puppy’ programs benefit the recipients of the dogs, but also the prisoners who raise them.
- Library Dogs – For children who are behind their grade level in reading, are learning English as a second language, or have learning disabilities, the idea of reading aloud can be terrifying. Library dog programs provide a relaxed environment for these kids to practice reading to someone who will not judge or make fun of them.
- Domestic Violence Shelters – Victims of domestic abuse who enter shelters may be extremely distrustful or fearful of people. Allowing them to interact with therapy dogs provides a safe, non-threatening environment that facilitates healing.
For more information on ways your agency can partner with therapy dog groups, look for local organizations or consult a national certifying body such as Therapy Dogs International or Pet Partners. Although the large majority of certified therapy animals are dogs, some of these organizations also certify other species, including cats, rabbits, rats, horses, pigs, and more.
Jennifer Aubel is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.