What do therapy dogs actually “do”?

By Sue Grundfest, Founder and President  l  Love Dog Adventures

When people ask me what do therapy animals actually “do?”  I tell them about Benny.  You see, Benny is the dog no one wanted.  Returned several times to a rescue in his first year of life, Benny has neurological damage and learns differently than other dogs.  When Benny became a therapy dog with Love Dog Adventures, he was assigned to a little boy on the autism spectrum who had difficulty making connections to humans. We really came to understand this little dog when he met a little boy named J.

J. experienced the world around him in unique ways. Benny was his therapy partner and they met weekly for four years. Through these interactions the little boy made tremendous strides in his language, comprehension, speech, attitude and sociability skills. And, in doing so, J. also gained a knowledge and respect for dogs.  He learned to make choices and decisions on his own. If the dogs were too close, he learned to calmly back away. He was able to make direct eye contact with the dogs, and over time, with people. That eye contact opened up the channel of communication, trust, and friendship.

When he called Benny’s name and the dog turned to look into his eyes, even if he had just been resting and had his eyes closed, J. felt the depth of the little dog’s love. He experienced the power, friendship and closeness to another living being.

J. worked with “his” Benny for four years and when his family moved to another state, J.’s Mom told us that all the years and countless hours they had spent together prepared J. to make such a big change in his life. He overcame so many fears and inabilities to communicate, focus, listen and learn. And he understood true friendship and trust. When J. said “Benny, look at me” and the dog turned to him, you could feel the power in the room.  So when people ask me what Animal Assisted Interactions are, I tell them the story of Benny and his little boy. I tell them about two special boys, learning together.

Animal Assisted Interactions is the term used to describe intentional animal interactions and interventions in both individual and group settings.  It’s more than just a dog sitting in the room, it’s having the dog and the client work together to achieve the desired outcome. Love Dog Adventures creates custom protocols for those educational and healthcare facilities we partner with.

All the other Love Dogs who work their magic every day are involved in many different programs.  One of our most popular is our anti-bully program, Be Cool, Not Cruel, where we teach the children kindness, tolerance and appreciation for differences, all through the eyes of the therapy dogs.

As we visit schools across the valley, we share Benny’s story and those of other Love Dogs and the children can really relate to that connection. They understand that to have a friend, you must be a friend. When you have several different breeds of dog in the room, the children learn that life is more interesting and more fun when there is a variety of differences. They understand you don’t have to be perfect, to be perfect!

Love Dog Adventures is the Nevada affiliate of the national therapy organization Pet Partners, and is a 501c3 public charity. Their annual fundraiser will be on Sunday, April 30, 2017 at the Siena Golf Club Bistro. For more information, visit www.lovedogadventures.org and click on Events or contact sue@lovedogadventures.org.