How a Therapy Dog Spreads Holiday Cheer
Hey everybody, Kono here!
I am a 2-year-old Golden Retriever who lives in Orlando, Florida. My curiously confident and affectionate nature helps me to be a great Therapy Dog, spreading love and happiness to everyone I visit. And that is just what I love to do this holiday season!
The holidays can be a difficult time for many humans, but Therapy Dog visits (or “Animal-Assisted Therapy”) can offer numerous and significant physical and mental health benefits for patients and residents in various settings.
For example, interaction with a gentle pet has been found to release hormones (i.e. serotonin, prolactin, and oxytocin – all hormones that have important roles in boosting moods) that provide an automatic relaxation response in the body. This positive response offers a plethora of physical and mental health benefits such as:
- lowers anxiety
- provides comfort
- decreases loneliness
- lessens depression
- reduces boredom
- increases mental acuity
- provides a happy distraction or “escape”
- lowers blood pressure
- improves cardiovascular health
- provides a calming effect
- diminishes pain
- slows down respiratory rate in anxious individuals
With my fluffy powers in tow, I strut into nursing homes, hospitals, and rehabilitation facilities; watching every room I enter light up with smiles at the first sight of me. Sometimes, I even go on Therapy visits with my brother Jack, who’s also a Therapy Dog!
Depending on the environment, I typically do a combination of visiting people in common areas as well as private rooms. I spread love to patients and residents in the nursing homes and hospitals and their friends and family. Having a loved one in the hospital can be taxing. While the patients and residents are usually my main focus on visits, there are other people in the room in need of my healing paws.
When my parents and I enter a room, they introduce us and walk towards the patient or resident. Sometimes they are in the bed, other times in a chair or wheel chair. I do not immediately go up to every person we visit, as some people want me to visit them, but maybe not come too close, or do not wish to pet me. Even my presence can bring relaxation and a happy distraction.
Most of the time, humans can’t wait to pet me! When we get the okay, I’m given my “Go Say Hi!” command; this means I have permission to approach the person. I calmly walk towards them–my wagging tail at work–showing everyone in the room just how important this job is to me. If there’s a request, I’m permitted to put my front paws on the bed so the patient can pet me. My command for this is “Paws Up!” which differentiates between my normal “Up” command, for jumping on something with my whole body, versus just two paws. (To keep both the patient/resident and myself safe, I do not ever put my whole 75-pound body on patient beds.)
Once I’m in the best position and settled close to them, they’ll begin to pet me, ask questions, share memories, talk to us about their families and share thoughts and feelings with my parents and I.
Everyone loves my Christmas reindeer antlers and light-up Christmas necklace I wear on visits around the holidays. Sometimes, I even show off my party tricks when we’re in common areas. I love the attention so entertaining with my fun tricks is something I’m always excited to do!
As a Therapy Dog team, my parents and I cannot forget some of the most important people that keep these facilities and health care institutions running! Many employees in the facilities are in need of a smile and are very grateful to get their spirits lifted by some time with me. Petting, hugging and cuddling me is an uplifting respite in the middle of a long shift or tough day.
Whether they’re patients, residents, friends and family or nurses, social workers and doctors I pass in the hallways I can help ground people from all walks of life, no matter their current struggles.
My fluffy head, big golden smile and eyes brimming with unconditional love provide companionship for those who need it most. Whether it’s a few moments or an hour with me, my parents and I have seen just how powerful Therapy Dogs are in helping others open up, enabling them to find comfort, peace, and happiness in the most difficult times of their lives. There is an undeniable wave of joy that fills each room as all eyes lock on me, and ear-to-ear smiles spread like wildfire.