Oxford Languages defines stress as a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.
Today, there is a lot to be stressed about, from world events to family troubles to school challenges. Everyone needs a little therapy, and that’s where therapy animals come in. After all, who wouldn’t want to snuggle and hug an adorable dog?
There are more than 50,000 therapy dogs in the United States. About 71% of pet owners know their pets can help to improve both their physical and mental health. In fact, there was a surge in therapy dog adoption during the coronavirus pandemic. There is also a higher rate of therapy dog adoptions among US veterans, especially those who suffer from PTSD.
Kyra Slakes / Advance Titan
Melanie Cross brought her recently-certified therapy dog, Tobi, to the Journalism open house.
In the US, Pet Partners is the largest therapy pet organization in operation. About 94% of their therapy animals are dogs and the rest are cats and other animals.
Animals must be tested before becoming therapy animals, said Veterinarian Kaye Krueger, who does the testing at Lake Country Veterinary Care. Dogs that jump on people, growl at children or urinate during the test will be immediately dismissed.
“Additionally, hospital simulations that allow animals to react to different stimuli are common during therapy tests,” she said.
Krueger said therapy dog go through a series of tests.
“During a therapy dog test, potential therapy dogs experience a simulation to see how the dog would react to different stimuli that could happen in a hospital,” Krueger said.
People may be in wheelchairs or on crutches, or someone may drop something that makes a loud noise or even scream and act erratically. Tests also have children present to see if a dog can focus on the task at hand instead of getting distracted, she said.
It is also up to the owners to know their dog’s body language and be able to intervene if the dog begins to get overwhelmed with certain situations.
“Therapy animals haven’t been able to venture to hospitals, schools or nursing homes since the pandemic, which has actually hit the therapy animal statistics hard,” Krueger said. “Now, with restrictions lifted, more and more animals are taking field trips to schools and college campuses, hospitals and nursing homes.”
Recently, the Oshkosh Police Department added a therapy dog to their force, a 2-year-old golden retriever named Magic. Police forces across the US are increasingly adding therapy dogs to their forces because when they have to talk to people in harsh situations, it makes it easier for them if they have a grounding force like a therapy dog.
Therapy dogs can help to calm people down who could be frazzled or frantic by the events that just happened to them. According to the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, they have been utilizing therapy dogs for children who are enrolled in mood and behavior programs at local hospitals. Data from the hospital showed that 90% of the children had improved mood after interacting with the therapy dogs.
Melanie Cross owns a therapy dog named Tobi, who just finished his certification as a therapy dog and his stop at UWO was his first official stop as a therapy dog. According to Cross, “because Tobi is so small (he was only 2.5 lbs when we first got him) he had to work a little harder on confidence because everything is giant to him.” There is no “one type” of therapy dog. Anything from giant great danes to tiny teacup puppies can be therapy dogs. Cross says that when she first got Tobi, she wasn’t planning on training him as a therapy dog but she noticed his affinity for people and how people were drawn to him. She also says, “Things are stressful in the world and if we can make people smile and give them a quick ‘puppy break’ — it’s worth it.”
UWO has his own therapy dog named Leo. Leo belongs to the Counseling Center’s director, Sandra Cox. To schedule an appointment, you can either call the Counseling Center, email them or actually go to the Counseling Center and ask them for animal assisted therapy. According to the UWO Counseling Center page on Animal Assisted Therapy, there are a number of benefits to animal assisted therapy for both physical and mental health including reducing blood pressure, releasing endorphins, improving cardiovascular health, lessening anxiety, reducing depression, encouraging communication and much more.