Perhaps your pooch has gotten a little too comfortable living the unemployed life. From the off-leash park to doggie day care and beyond, each day we are ready to slather on the fun and games for our four-legged friends. And deservedly so, as our canine friends offer us much unconditional love and amusement.
But remember the dog-human relationship historically comes from a background of service, and maybe you and your furry friend could both reach a deeper level of self-actualization by giving back your talents together through service.
Maybe your dog isn’t exactly cut out to be a bomb-sniffing hero. Fortunately, many local organizations exist to help people and their pets—most creatures from cats to llamas—offer the compassionate presence so many of our ailing, lonely, elderly or disabled neighbors ache for.
Some organizations like Reading with Rover and Project Canine’s Bow Wows and Books program offer training for dogs to become professional listeners for children who struggle with literacy and self-esteem when it comes to reading aloud. A 2010 study at UC Davis showed that the benefits of this simple act are monumental by engaging elementary school–age children in reading, with a 12 percent increase in fluency as well as decreased anxiety, improved confidence and increased motivation to read independently.
Other groups focus on the simple yet wildly therapeutic presence of pets for healing, easing loneliness, and calming emotions and the fluctuations of the mind. Study after study touts the benefits of what is clinically termed Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT) in hospital settings as well as in the daily lives of those working with autism, dementia, Alzheimer’s, anxiety, depression, grief/loss, trauma, substance abuse, and most emotional and behavioral disorders. AAT brings extraordinary yet subtle healing power, which often manifests as decreased blood pressure and stress, elevated mood, improved concentration, greater self-esteem and sense of purpose, reduced loneliness, and learning to set and respect healthy boundaries.
Bellevue-based Pet Partners is nationally renowned for its therapy pet programs. The organization was even intimately involved with the American Kennel Club’s development of an AKC Therapy Dog title and holds online and in-person courses to train owners and their pets to become volunteer therapy teams for a variety of situations, and an enormous network to help connect them with those in need. For those concerned, Pet Partners also provides $2 million primary liability insurance coverage and various discounts through their online store.
Project Canine in northeast Seattle has a similar program called Connecting Canines that is exclusively local and offers plenty of support for owners—liability insurance and otherwise. They also have a puppy therapy training program for those who wish to share the joyful and undeniably cute assistance only a baby animal can provide.
Also based in northeast Seattle, Sirius Healing’s herd of therapy Portuguese water dogs makes the rounds to local college campuses during exam weeks as well as countless other hospitals, retirement homes and other places in need of puppy love. Trainer Laurie Hardman has been training therapy dogs and their owners since the 1990s and certifies with a partner therapy testing organization.
So get your French bulldog off that couch and off to work! Most dogs are eager to be of service and to feel needed in this world, so maybe we should let them even temporarily share the love. And maybe a little of the slobber too.
Requesting a Therapy Dog Visit
For reading therapy:
• Bow Wows and Books, projectcanine.org/bow-wows-books
• Reading with Rover, readingwithrover.org/contact/
For all other therapies:
• Connecting Canines, projectcanine.org/connecting-canines
• Pet Partners, petpartners.org/facilities_info
• Sirius Healing, siriushealing.com/sirius-healing-contact-us-popup.html
Learn More about Animal Therapy
• The Healing Power of Pets, by Marty Becker
• Handbook on Animal-Assisted Therapy, edited by Aubrey Fine
Nestled in the wooded depths of Redmond lies an oasis of hippotherapeutic healing—by which we mean horses, of course! Touted for their therapeutic presence and capacity to help riders develop fine muscle coordination, strengthen bones, and improve balance and reduce stress.
Since 1976, the Eastside’s Little Bit Therapeutic Riding Center has been offering one of the biggest therapeutic horsemanship programs in the nation and is one of our country’s leading PATH (Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship) International centers.
Children and adults with disabilities can apply for one of two programs: the independent Adaptive Riding or the more readily assisted Hippotherapy—essentially physical and occupational therapy on the back of a horse. Scholarships are available and volunteer opportunities abound. littlebit.org