Therapy Dogs: Providing Comfort After Disaster Strikes

Two Golden Retrievers

Two Golden Retrievers (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The recent bombing in Boston, as well as the horrific events in Newtown, Connecticut brought attention to the psychological needs of people after disaster strikes. We all have a sense that the presence of dog might bring comfort, but why?   The National Geographic reported on the use of dogs for therapy in a piece titled After the Bombing, Comfort Dogs Come to Boston. The authors interviewed Brian Hare, director of Duke University’s Canine Cognition Center, who provided some context:

The human-canine bond goes back thousands of years…Part of what makes dogs special is that they are one of the only species that does not generally exhibit xenophobia, meaning fear of strangers, says Hare.

“We’ve done research on this, and what we’ve found is that not only are most dogs totally not xenophobic, they’re actually xenophilic-they love strangers!” Hare said. “That’s one way in which you could say dogs are ‘better’ than people. We’re not always that welcoming.”

People also benefit from interacting with canines. Simply petting a dog can decrease levels of stress hormones, regulate breathing, and lower blood pressure. Research also has shown that petting releases oxytocin, a hormone associated with bonding and affection, in both the dog and the human.

Courtesy: Bright Spot Therapy Dogs

Courtesy: Bright Spot Therapy Dogs

Where Can You Find “Comfort Dog” Services?

There are several volunteer organizations that provide comfort dogs in times of need. In Western Massachusetts Bright Spot Therapy Dogs, Inc are very active in the community. Their tag line says it all “Bringing comfort to those who need it the most.” They are  “…dedicated to placing well trained certified therapy dog teams in meaningful programs that provide comfort and caring through the human-canine bond.”   In addition to responding to disaster events (including Newtown) they provide services on a more routine basis. They will visit organizations and facilities, such as:

  • hospitals
  • public and private day and residential schools
  • psychiatric facilities
  • hospice
  • nursing homes
  • rehabilitation facilities
  • senior centers
  • etc.

For more info see their Facebook page, or better yet, come see Director Cynthia Hinkley,  her team of volunteers, plus four canine therapist at the Whole Community Preparedness Summit, May 22 in Amherst.

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