Hearts Turned Canine – The Healing Power of Pets

Credits to BeyondPetFood.com
photo credit to BeyondPetFood.com

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association there are nearly 70 million dog owners in the United States. The fastest growing urban parks are for the dogs and their owners can tap travel, restaurant, and shopping guides to “Bring Fido” along, just about anywhere. According to the Mayo Clinic, even medicine is going to the dogs … but in a good way. “Animal-assisted therapy is a growing field that uses dogs and other animals to help people recover from or better cope with health problems, such as heart disease, cancer, and mental disorders.”

Just a 10-15 minute doggie-visit leads to increased smiles, reduced stress, and greater optimism. Canine therapy isn”t just a feel-good observation; it’s a frequent area of research. Animal-assisted activity and emotional status of patients with Alzheimer’s disease in day care was documented by the International Psychogeriatric Association.  The researchers noted that “the use of animals for health purposes” in the U.S. dates back as far as 1953. The study of interaction between humans and dogs resulted in observable differences in behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia patients (medications unchanged): “reduced anxiety and sadness and increasing positive emotions such as pleasure and general alertness. Moreover, motor activity increased due to an increased attraction towards the environment.”

Dakota – Magnolia Manor”s mascot

However, it doesn”t take a research project to convince people of this naturally occurring therapeutic phenomenon. Magnolia Manor includes daily interactions with Dakota as part of their program of catering to the needs of seniors and their caregivers, as well as entertaining visits from other precious pets and people. The hope of making days brighter for seniors with a little pet therapy is making its way into nursing homes too. Just one look at Malibu Thomson, the Ambassador for the Elderly, and your heart swells with love. The founder of the Australia project says it’s about giving lonely nursing home residents some TLCM … Tender Loving Care from Malibu. “Just a short visit to share a cuppa or to read a short story can make their days brighter.”

Owners and visitors aren”t the only ones benefiting. The love and affection is mutual. Take the case in point recently featured on Today.com about a dog who ventured 15 blocks to join her owner in the hospital. The 10-year-old dog named Sissy walked all the way on her own, straight into the lobby, of Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids, and it was captured on security cameras. “Franck [her owner was] recovering from complications related to cancer surgery.” The heart and mind connection obviously goes beyond human understanding. Will Rogers certainly had a firm grasp on that when he exclaimed, “If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.

Dog have the ability to knock down emotional walls, opening minds and hearts to a healing energy that can’t be matched by the pharmaceutical industry. Sandra Carson of Paws for Purple Hearts said it best. “A lot of veterans with PTSD tend to isolate. They don’t engage. They build a defensive wall around themselves so they can feel safe. But dogs have an ability to shatter that wall. They’re friendly and non-judgmental. They invite interaction.” The healing potential is recognized by the Veterans Administration, too (go to the featured service dog resources).

"Ella Bella" Mommy-Daughter  Moments
“Ella Bella” Mommy-Daughter Moments

I have to confess. I wasn”t always among the list of dog-lovers. Then, my heart was swayed via my daughter Loren’s visits home with Ella in tow … or “Ella Bella” as I affectionately call her. Ella is tied at the hip to my child, and she’s an integral part of our household on visits — she”s our grand-dog! It doesn”t take a medical crisis to change hearts. It just takes an open heart among dogs.

Has a canine impacted yours or a loved one’s life? Healed old wounds? Brightened your little corner of the world? We’d love to hear about it.


“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one”s soul remains unawakened.”
~ Antole France

3 thoughts on “Hearts Turned Canine – The Healing Power of Pets”

  1. I love seeing animals brought into our assisted living communities – dogs, cats, lamas, and I even saw a peacock : ) I’ve been studying service dogs for dementia – they provide therapy but the also protect and serve much like a police dog. The emotional intuition of these animals is phenomenal. Often times, when rescue animals are used, they get a good home as well.

    1. Mike, I just heard from another friend who adopted parakeets for his dad (living with Alzheimer’s). Whether for stimulation, companionship or protection, there’s no doubt pets can be a wonderful asset in the “care-equation”. Please keep us posted on your know-how of using service dogs to aid dementia patients, as well as the inception of a memory cafe!

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