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Therapy Dogs (I) - A Journey To K9irvana

22 May 2014 | by Adnan A Khan | Posted in: Wag Wiki

We are slowly reaching a nascent stage in our dog world where our cross-species interaction and synergies are experiencing many new horizons parallely. In other words, our love for dogs is being converted into warm-hearted opportunities and ideas around the world. Some from a social perspective, some from an entrepreneurial aspect and many from welfare aspects. 

Let’s ponder upon the mysticism behind the possibility of dogs curing certain ailments and hormonal misconduct in many of us who are ridden by any mental disorder ranging from anxiety, personality, learning to social cognition. As suggested in the title, what else can be a befitting label than K9irvana (amalgamation of K9 + nirvana). 

More clearly, the idea of “Therapy Dogs” is relatively new but quite rapidly catching in with endless paradigms of employment and service. Institutes across the world like hospitals, schools, colleges, nursing homes and defence centres have started to appreciate the impact on dogs for rehabilitation of humans in distress mental or emotional phases. 

How It All Started

Being man’s best friend since time immemorial, technically dogs have always been therapy dogs for us in a way. But the first documented dog for such intent has to be credited to Smoky, a Yorkshire Terrier during World War II. Smoky was rescued from the battlefield by an American soldier, who was unfortunate enough to acquire jungle disease. Smoky never left his side in the tough times during his recovery. 

Nurse Elaine Smith in 1976 started training dogs to visit health and family institutions. She, along with her Golden Retriever inspired many medical professionals, who realized the effect of animal companionship in aiding with many medical concerns. 

The first recorded facility providing such a service was a non-profit organization called “Tender Loving ZOO (TLZ)” in Los Angeles, California. Started by Nancy Stanley in 1982, she started with taking her miniature poodle, Freeway to a Developmental Centre for the severely disabled. This activity soon evolved to a full-fledged operation which involved more helpers, baby animals and a van providing visits to schools, hospitals and other suitable institutions in the city.

Future For India

Being the second largest population in the world, the opportunities for said therapies are endless. 

On a bio-chemical aspect, therapy dogs have been reported to affect certain hormonal neurotransmitters in the brain. Dog therapy raises levels of Oxytocin (bonding) , Serotonin (happiness) and Dopamine (reward-motivation). In addition, the levels of Cortisol (stress) , Norepinephrine (obsessive habits) , Epinephrine (fight-flight) were documented to be lowered with dogs around us. 

With the approach of animal assisted rehabilitation of humans being very new and almost unheard of in the country, the scope for our future possibilities knows no bounds. 

Children with learning disabilities or developmental disabilities are born into many families and that number does not seem to be decreasing, so providing assistance dogs for better cognitive development is a considerable idea. 

Many health and educational institutions that manifest a stress-based environment need a relieving moment out of the mundane routines they subject themselves and their occupants to on a daily basis. A therapy dog visitation on a weekly or monthly basis has a potential of impacting in sensational ways. All that is required is allowing certified pets to enter various public places where we usually would not imagine of having animal accessibility. 

Stay tuned for the second part of the Therapy Dog series that talks about the types of therapies and facilities present in India and internationally. 

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