Therapy Dogs


Therapy dogs are dogs that are trained to give affection and comfort to people in unfortunate situations.  They are often used to help people in hospitals, retirement homes, schools, and people with learning disabilities.  Whether or not a dog is suitable for this line of work is based on personality rather than breed.  Because therapy dogs must work with many kinds of people, such as young children or the elderly, they must have patience and sensitivity.

The story of the first therapy dog is very interesting.  During World War II, a soldier named William Wynne found a Yorkshire Terrier dog abandoned on the battlefield.  He became friends with the dog and named it Smoky.  When Corporal Wynne became very ill and entered a hospital, his friends brought Smoky for a visit.  Smoky became so popular with the other sick soldiers in the hospital that he was allowed to stay.  The doctors in the hospital used Smoky to help cheer up the patients.  After the war ended, he continued to work as a therapy dog in the United States.

In the 1970s, an American nurse named Elaine Smith started a program to train therapy dogs.  Smith noticed how patients in hospitals seemed to recover faster when they had been around dogs.  Many other doctors and nurses noticed that having animals regularly visit hospitals helped lower stress and blood pressure among patients.  In the 1980s and 1990s, other animals also started to help the sick.  Cats, birds, and rabbits have become “therapy pets” and they are now used in many hospitals around the world.

Today, therapy pets are used to help many different people with problems.  For example, they help soldiers who have been traumatized by their combat experience.  They are also used to help children with reading disabilities by providing an audience that won’t belittle them.  Some therapy pets are used to help people undergoing physical therapy.  For example, they work along with the patient and the doctor to help people learn to walk again after a serious injury.