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June 25, 2013 > Ohlone Humane Society: Feel the love

Ohlone Humane Society: Feel the love

By Nancy Lyon
Photos By Vianna Bullis, OHS AAT Director

Dogs are special. They offer us nonjudgmental love and companionship... gifts that help us deal with our daily stress and woes in an increasingly tough world. They are 'good medicine' that helps us to heal both physically and emotionally, qualities that are increasingly recognized by health care providers.

When you share that empathy and loving devotion with people in retirement communities, nursing homes and care facilities, the results are often amazing. In these circumstances, people can feel isolated and suffer from depression, often unable or unwilling to communicate with people yet when therapy dogs visit, magic happens... they open up and share their feelings and life stories of past events and animals loved long ago.

The visits give residents or patients something to look forward to... a warm and fuzzy friend who will listen to stories told perhaps more than a few times, while welcoming friendly strokes. In fact, it has been shown that the simple act of touching and petting an animal reduces blood pressure and anxiety while encouraging needed physical movement.

Next year will be the 20th anniversary of OHS Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) teams in our community, helping to ease the loneliness and stress of seniors and others in situations where many are experiencing traumatic life changes and isolation.

We're gratified that these wonderful teams of handlers and special dogs have contributed so much to lifting spirits and promoting well-being of hundreds of people over the years. Our animal therapists have been bearers of warmth and unquestioning acceptance and, in that moment, feelings of sadness, pain, and vulnerability are forgotten; sweet medicine indeed.

In recent years, our AAT teams have expanded their circle of service by partnering with the Fremont Main Library. The Read-to-a-Dog program encourages kids and their parents to get together with therapy dog teams each month. Kids that need to improve their reading skills when reading aloud find our AAT dogs ideal listeners... you can feel the love as kids and therapy dog teams enjoying reading together. Definitely a lot of "Awww" moments!

Requests for visits by our AAT teams have exceeded our capacity and, because of this, we are always looking for canine candidates. Wonderful as all dogs are, not every dog is therapy dog material.

Would your dog make a good therapy dog? A good therapy dog is calm, tolerant and friendly. They must be social and well-behaved, and need to enjoy being with people. The aim of the program is a positive interaction between the dog and the people being visited. If a dog is only wishing to please his or her handler, the connection will be less than ideal; the person being visited may feel they are not important to the dog. When a dog doesn't really look forward to the visits, the wise thing is to not force therapy work on them.

Visiting 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 can cause injury and a dog that is full of energy and always ready to work may be too active for many situations. A dog must be comfortable and natural with the behavior necessary to be a good therapy dog.

If you are interested in participating in this valuable community service and have a friendly and well-mannered, spayed or neutered dog, that is over one year of age, leave a message for program Director Vianna Bullis on the OHS business line at (510) 792-4587 or online at Along with contact information, leave the best time to reach you. All dogs must pass an evaluation process to ensure that they are safe, obedient and stable individuals that love to be around people in many different environments.

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