Tag Archives: pet therapy

How Pet Therapy Helps Elderly and Autistic People

Calm, sweet therapy dogs can inspire a warm, positive response in just about anyone. That’s why there’s certainly no surprise that these specially trained pups — and sometimes other animals — are helpful resources in the care of elderly individuals and autistic children.


The Benefits of Pet Therapy

In many cases, companion animals enhance our health and quality of life simply by being cute and lovable. We get it – the science isn’t that hard to comprehend. Their positive energy is contagious and the smiles and laughter you’re left with are simply good for you. Therapy dogs often do even more good by bringing joy to elderly patients in nursing homes and hospice care facilities and by providing a non-judgmental source of social interaction to children with autism. With their ability to stay calm and accept all people, these dogs are a great resource for taking life better for these special patients.


Pet Therapy for the Elderly

Pet therapy for elderly individuals often consists of visits with patients in hospital beds, wheelchairs or sofas. The purpose of these visits is for the dog to cuddle up to the patient and have a relaxing session of snuggles and petting. This may seem like a simple, normal experience for pet-owning families who snuggle with their pooches every day, but for hospice and nursing home patients who haven’t enjoyed a normal home environment for quite some time, the loving act of petting a dog can be a major source of happiness.



Hudson, an Italian greyhound who serves as a therapy dog in San Diego-area nursing homes, has gotten non-responsive hospice patients to react to his presence by cuddling up and letting them pet him. For these gravely ill patients, the warm, soft presence of a dog helps to relieve stress and provides emotional comfort that even human family members can’t always provide.


Pet Therapy for Children with Autism

The right setting for therapy dogs that work with children depends on the individual patient’s needs. Some pet therapy for autistic children takes place in formal classroom and clinic settings, but some therapy dogs are constant companions for their young charges.



In Mark Fontana’s case, his black lab, Echo, is with him nearly every moment. Like his dog Echo, Mark can’t communicate with speech, and this social barrier left him frustrated and frantic. His family struggled to find a way to help him feel comfortable, in spite of his challenges. They eventually learned that some service dogs are trained to help those suffering from disorders on the autism spectrum.


These days, Echo provides emotional comfort and security for Mark, helping him feel more at ease in social situations. With a cuddly, non-verbal companion at his side, Mark has more confidence at school and at other social gatherings. Echo’s training makes it easier to navigate different situations and takes the pressure off Mark.


The Right Dog for the Job

Not just any dog can become a healthcare therapy dog. It takes a special canine, and the human professionals who work with them hold them in high regard. “[Dogs are] co-therapists with me. They’re well trained and highly respected,” says Dr. Aubrey H. Fine, a professor and practicing therapist who uses animals as part of his child psychology practice. Dr. Fine treats the animals he works with as professionals, giving them time off and keeping them carefully groomed for work.


This approach to therapy dogs is relatively new, and it’s part of a growing movement to recognize the legitimate contributions of these animals. Although petting any dog might reduce stress and spark positive feelings, a therapy dog must be extremely well behaved and patient. In a nursing home or hospice facility, they must stay calm in the face of beeping medical equipment and noisy rolling gurneys. Dogs who work with autistic children can’t react aggressively if a child accidentally pets too hard or tugs a tail or ear.


This means therapy dogs need the right combination of disposition and training to do their jobs, just as human medical professionals must have the right combination of personality and education to excel in their chosen fields. The special dogs who meet the stringent criteria are incredible examples of what dogs can do for us when we show them the proper care and respect.


If you or a family member is curious about pet therapy, consider a service dog program or adoption. Organizations like 4 Paws for Ability provide service dogs for different scenarios or disabilities. Those with autism, hearing loss or other health concerns can benefit from the assistance or love of a dog!


Do you know of a friend or family member who has benefited from pet therapy, or have a therapy dog at home you’d like to shout out? Share with us below in the comments or on our Facebook page!



Thinking of Fostering a Service Dog? Here’s What It Takes

Fostering service dogs gives you the opportunity to take part in the training and care of dogs who will go on to help their humans in incomparable ways. Fostering a service or therapy dog comes with plenty of doggy kisses and snuggles, but it also requires some work. Foster volunteers do a lot of the heavy lifting during the first few months of a service dog’s life. Here are some things to consider before making the commitment!

What Do Therapy Dogs and Service Dogs Do?

Before you start fostering, it’s necessary to know if the pup in question is going to be a therapy dog or a service dog. Therapy dogs typically work with humans in hospitals, schools and nursing homes. They undergo extensive training, but they aren’t certified and don’t meet all the requirements to work as service dogs.
Service dogs undergo specialized training to help people with disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines service dogs as those who work with people with the following conditions:

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Mental illness
  • Seizure disorders
  • Deafness
  • Blindness
  • Wheelchair-bound

Dog Training

You will be instrumental in your foster pup’s training. In addition to feeding him the best dog foods, you are also in charge of teaching him basic commands and how to wait quietly and patiently in addition to discouraging barking outside of play. Some organizations might require you to attend puppy classes and submit regular reports on the dog’s progress and any issues you encounter.

Socializing Your Foster Dog

Once they’re working in their therapy or service positions, these dogs are expected to always be under control. A big part of your job as a foster parent is to expose your dog to as many different situations and environments as possible. Whether the pup is destined to be a therapy dog or a service dog, he must behave well in a variety of environments. Even though the requirements can vary depending on the organization you work with, most require the dogs to be comfortable with the following:

  • Car and bus rides
  • Walking in densely populated places
  • Walking in parks
  • Hiking trails/walking through forests
  • Exploring new places
  • Group meetings and social settings

Do’s and Don’ts of Fostering Service Dogs

  • Do: Regular grooming, including bathing, trimming nails and brushing teeth
  • Don’t: Feed the dog from the table
  • Do: Return the dog once you’re foster period is over (usually one month to one year)
  • Don’t: Leave the puppy alone for too long
  • Do: Feed your foster pup the best dog food possible. Great nutrition can help with cognitive and behavioral training, and of course overall health
  • Do: Regular training at home and in other environments

If you think you’re up to the challenge, find an organization near you and discuss the opportunity with them. Fill out an application, and get ready for a new adventure.

Dr. Katy’s Advice for Beating End of Year Stress

This time of year, it can feel like we’re being pulled in a thousand different directions.


There’s holiday shopping, the end of year blitz at work, managing your busy schedule, managing those of your kids (furry ones included), and prepping for the New Year. It can be exhausting. Then, there are so many things that we feel like we should be doing as well: volunteering, giving to charity, going to visit family, etc. With all of that going on, we can forget to take care of ourselves.


There’s a known term for letting our hearts get too big and actually causing stress: “Compassion Fatigue.” Whether you’ve got a house full of pets, kids still at home, or are responsible for the well-being of others as part of your career, when you focus on others too much without practicing self-care, that’s when a healthy adjustment might be necessary. While there are many lessons we can learn from our pets, taking time for ourselves to relax is one of the most important and healthy.




As an emergency veterinarian, I have certainly experienced “Compassion Fatigue” in my career. There are days in this job where it seems like everything I see is in critical condition, and every owner has a story that pulls on the heartstrings. Some days, all I can do is stay compassionate and supportive for them and their pets. But when I have my own things to worry about, taking on someone else’s can be draining.


While caring for the needs of others is extremely important, balancing their needs with your own is critical. If you’re not happy and healthy, it’s hard to care for someone else! Thus, prevention of emotional, physical and spiritual burnout is key. Here are my tips for surviving the busy (and sometimes overwhelming) holiday season and heading into the New Year with you on your mind:


    1. Carve Out Time for You: I know, easier said than done; but as a multi-career working mother, wife, entrepreneur, volunteer, daughter, friend, etc. let me assure you that it can be done. Be sure to make yourself as much a priority as you do everyone else.
    2. Get Some Rest and Manage Your Intake: Beware of yummy “feel good items.” It’s okay to have that delicious Gingerbread Latte occasionally, but having to have one can become a problem. Caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol can make you feel better temporarily, but are not the answers when experiencing burnout. Instead, make sure to get into bed earlier to wake up feeling well rested and with a more positive outlook.
    3. Spend Time With Your Pets: Loads of research over the last 25 years has shown us that living with pets provides numerous health benefits, both physically and mentally. In an article I wrote recently, I mentioned that spending more time with our pets could lower our blood pressure, lessen anxiety, reduce allergies, encourage healthy socializing, and boost our immunity. So, there’s a great excuse to build in more time with your pets, even if it’s just a quick walk together or extra few minutes of giving them affection.
    4. Get Some Exercise: Just a 10-minute walk around the neighborhood with your furry friend can make a healthy impact. Exercise releases endorphins, which are natural “feel good” hormones. This way, you’ll be doing your body and mind a favor, while helping your pet experience the same. Here are some great ways to get exercise in with your dog or cat, whether at home or on vacation this holiday.
    5. Ask for Support from Those Closest to You: It’s never a sign of weakness to tell those you love that you could use a hand. Perhaps you can delegate a few responsibilities, or ask for them to help you get something done. Or, sometimes just having someone to listen can make us feel so much better. It’s important to be sure to ‘escape’ from the busy lifestyle every once in a while and, sometimes, doing so with a close friend or loved one is the best way!




Our pets are great at taking time for themselves, something to emulate! And don’t underestimate the positive effects spending time with our pets can have on our health. (Photo: Phil Roeder, Flickr)


By taking a little time for yourself, you strengthen your own ability to give to others by making yourself a happier person. As we enter the thick of the holiday season and begin to think about the New Year, it’s important that we remember these important tips to take care of ourselves.


Happy Holidays to you and yours, and I can’t wait to connect with everyone again in the New Year!