What do George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, Barrack Obama and I have in common? We have owned and/or still own and love dogs. Thirty-two US Presidents have lived in the White House with their dogs. While these dog’s best friends may be way up on the Whose Who list, our dogs are also valuable because they work for people that require, need and love them.
According to historical stories, dogs were domesticated around 12,000 years ago. Throughout history, dogs assisted people with specific needs. When soldiers returned home after World War 1, German Shepard’s were trained to be guides for blind veterans. The accomplishments from this training prompted other types of dog trainings for individuals with disabilities and medical challenges. In order to protect those individuals, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 defines a service animal as:
With respect to people with medical illnesses, medical journals have published clinical studies to show how dogs are cancer detectors, perceive impeding seizures in people and alert those with diabetes of a hypoglycemic episode. Teams of “psychiatric service dogs” are used all over the country to help people with various mental health issues that may include bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders and post traumatic stress disorder. (PTSD)
A recent survey from the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program (CDMRP) showed that 82 percent of patients with PTSD who were assigned a dog had a decrease in symptoms, and 40 percent had a decrease in the medications they had to take.
At the beginning of January 2011, the Veterans Dog Training Therapy Act introduced a bill to carry out pilot programs for assessing the effectiveness of veterans with post-deployment mental health and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms to train service dogs to assist co-veterans that have disabilities. The plan required that our four legged friends and veterans all across the nation perform the pilot programs at Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical centers. In addition, The Middleburg Heights Animal Foundation in Cleveland, Ohio has started a new program, Veteran’s Best Friend, which trains shelter and homeless dogs as psychiatric service dogs for veterans with psychological problems.
Besides assisting veterans, dogs are also involved in alternative and integrative medicine through nursing homes, hospitals, hospice, and centers that provide healing.
Dogs obviously understand what they have to do on the job. Every one of us who owns a dog knows why dogs are man’s (and women’s) best friends. They are the partner, the companion, the lover and they enhance the lives of people with and without disabilities.
What more could we ask for? If you are interested in investigating how to obtain a therapeutic dog, the references may help.
- Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990
- Therapy Dogs International
- Veteran’s Best Friend
- 4 Paws for Ability (As of January 2011, 4 Paws for Ability has trained and placed over 600 service dogs!)