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February 17, 2010 > Ohlone Humane Society: Loving hands and paws

Ohlone Humane Society: Loving hands and paws

By Nancy Lyon

It's a fact... and people who are fortunate enough to have a companion animal in their lives will tell you... animals make us feel good. They not only give us joy and laughter, they help us to be healthy and to stay that way.

Healthcare providers are increasingly recognizing that our animal companions are Good Medicine and when they share their empathy and love with people in retirement communities, nursing homes and other support facilities, the quality of people's lives is deeply enriched.

People in care situations can feel lonely and isolated, shutting out the world around them yet they will often talk to therapy dogs and their handlers, sharing with them their thoughts and feelings and memories. Animal visitations provide something to look forward to and the simple act of stroking an animal can reduce a person's blood pressure while petting encourages use of hands and arms, stretching and turning. A recent study by a team of health care professionals showed statistically significant reductions in anxiety levels found after an animal-assisted therapy session for patients with mood problems and other disorders.

For more than 15 years OHS Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) teams have visited retirement and care facilities to help alleviate the loneliness and stress of seniors and others in situations where many are experiencing traumatic life changes and isolation from the outside world. They have touched the lives of many people, greatly enhancing their quality of life. Our animal therapists have been bearers of warmth and unquestioning acceptance and, in that moment, feelings of sadness, pain, and vulnerability are forgotten. It's truly remarkable to watch therapy animals bring smiles and happiness to any environment. The cares of the day, the challenges that must be faced become far less overwhelming, life becomes more enjoyable.

This service is very much appreciated and we are receiving many more requests for visitations than we can presently accommodate. Because of the growing need we are always looking for candidates for our program.

Would your dog make a good therapy dog? AAT visiting dogs must be social and well-behaved, they must like and enjoy being with people. The aim of the program is interaction between the dog and the people being visited. If the dog does not enjoy the visit, the interaction will be less than ideal. The person needs to feel accepted by the dog; feeling unwelcomed can be hurtful to the person who reaches out. A good therapy dog is calm, tolerant and friendly. Visits should be pleasurable for both. A dog that doesn't really enjoy and look forward to visits is not suited to be a therapy dog.

Potential therapy dogs must pass a special evaluation process to ensure that they are safe, obedient, stable individuals that love to be around people in many different environments.

Such dogs must be polite; they must not force their attentions on someone. Just as you would not appreciate an overly friendly stranger, a polite dog does not touch a person unless invited. They must have a balance between calmness and sociability. Even an excellent obedience dog may not be a good visiting dog if he or she shows little interest in meeting people. An aloof dog may be calm, but may cause people to feel rejected. An overly friendly dog may have the best of intentions but may cause injury, and a dog that is full of energy and always ready to work may be too active for most situations. A dog must be comfortable and natural with the behavior necessary to be a good therapy dog.

OHS Therapy dogs also give a listening ear to children. Many of our AAT teams choose to participate in the Reading to Dogs program in which we partner with the Fremont Main library. This project helps children to improve their reading skills by reading aloud to the dogs in a comfortable and non-judgmental surrounding.

If you are interested in participating in these valuable community services and have a friendly and well-mannered, spayed or neutered dog, that is over one year of age, leave a message for program Director Kathleen Jackson on the OHS business line at 510-792-4587. Along with your contact information, leave the best time to reach you

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