Therapy Animals

Olivia Zucco, Staff Writer

Recently, there have been more and more people who own and rely on therapy animals.
The most common type of therapy animal is the dog. Therapy dogs are trained to provide people with affection, comfort, and love. Elaine Smith is the person behind the start of training dogs to be used for therapy. She noticed that people would positively respond to a chaplain who would come and visit them with his golden retriever. She started a program in 1976, for training dogs to visit institutions to become therapy dogs.
Many organizations provide evaluations and registration for dogs. Tests will make sure that the dog can handle loud or strange noises and are not afraid of people with canes or people in wheelchairs. Also, the dog needs to be able to get along well with children and the elderly.
There are physical and mental benefits to having a therapy dog. Some of the physical benefits include lowering blood pressure, improving cardiovascular health, and helping people to relax. Some of the mental benefits are: the dogs can help to lessen depression; they provide comfort; they increase socialization; they can lessen boredom and they can reduce anxiety and loneliness.
Health professionals use therapy animals to improve a patient’s social, emotional, and mental health. Therapy dogs are used at colleges near mid-term or finals weeks to help students distress and relax. They are also used at hospitals. Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center in Buffalo, NY uses therapy dogs. Twelve dogs participate in the therapy dog program at Roswell.  “Nicole Gerber, a Roswell Park employee who, along with her English Setter, Monty, helped start the Pet Therapy Program in 2006, said, “When those patients see a dog, a smile comes over their face and you can sense a weight of worry or pain is relieved, even if only for a moment.” (Roswell website). Therapy dogs also help at disaster sites. They help people with the emotional and physical trauma they are going through.
The Erie County Sheriff’s Office just announced that they are getting a new K9 dog which will be a therapy dog. He is a chocolate lab named Loki. He and his owner, Deputy Alisha Gordon, are going to Florida, for a training to certify Loki as a therapy dog. Loki will be the first certified law enforcement therapy canine in New York State. He will be helping in many situations such as in crimes against children, school violence incidents, deadly accidents, and traumatic events.
Dogs are not the only type of therapy animal. Other therapy animals are cats, rabbits, birds, guinea pigs, rats, miniature pigs, llamas, alpacas, horses, mini horses and donkeys, as well as other animals.
While therapy animals can be helpful for many people, they can also cause problems. They are causing a lot problems on airplanes. For example, a man got to his row on a recent flight and had the window seat. Already, in the row was a man with a large dog on his lap. He walked by them to get to his seat when the dog lunged at his face because it was protecting its owner. The attack was only 30 seconds, but it left him with face wounds that required 28 stitches.
Animals that are trained to assist a person who has a disability or animals that provide emotional support are protected by the Air Carrier Access Act of 1986. Some airlines require that passengers who have to bring their pets on board provide a letter from a doctor or mental health professional. Those letters can be easily forged or obtained from websites that provide questionnaire style exams. The problem is that people are bringing poorly trained pets onto flights. Some problems flight attendants encounter are dogs blocking snack carts and ducks wandering the aisles. According to the Washington Post, a Delta Flight attendant from the flight attendant association, Taylor Gartland, said one flight attendant was asked to administer oxygen to a dog that according to its owner was having anxiety. One of the other problems is that other passengers on these flights could have allergies to pet dander, which could cause there flight to be unpleasant.
In most cases therapy animals are beneficial to people.