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Health & Exercise Forum

Paw-sitive Healing: Therapy Dogs

Apr 29, 2013

Dr. Mackarey's Health & Exercise ForumGuest Author: Anjani Amladi

Anjani Amladi is a 2nd year medical student at The Commonwealth Medical College (TCMC). She was raised in San Ramon, CA and earned a B.S. in Biological Sciences at The University of California at Davis. She has a special interest in alternative medicine, wellness and preventive care. Her goal is to secure a Psychiatry residency with the hope of researching alternative therapies for psychiatric disorders.

Anjani has a special interest and passion for therapy dogs in healthcare. She and her dog Rambo are taking steps to become a certified dog-handler team. It is my sincere hope that these words will touch others and foster the human-animal relationship. Therapy dogs play an essential role in the healing process, and rise to the occasion when words are not enough.

As a physician, Anjani plans to assist in the healing and wellness of her patients with more than medicine…with a little help from Rambo,“her best friend!”

National Pet Month – April 1 to May 6, 2013

The relationship between man and dog has been recognized and honored throughout time. Some historians trace the therapeutic employment of animals back to ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome. Over time, humans have domesticated dogs of all breeds based on the animals’ multitude of skills, which include; retrieving, tracking, herding, sled pulling, protection and companionship.

Scientific evidence supports the positive effects animals have on our health. By simply petting an animal, the body responds by producing a hormone called oxytocin which induces calming effects. These feelings of tranquility are also associated with physical phenomena including; improved physical and emotional well-being, decreased blood pressure, decreased triglycerides, and decreased stress.

What is a Therapy Dog?

A therapy dog (TD), also known as a comfort dog, possesses certain innate warm, gentle and loving qualities which provide comfort and healing to humans. TD’s come in all breeds, shapes and sizes. They do not just tolerate human contact, they welcome and love it. TD’s are friendly, gentle, and remain at ease in many different settings and situations. This special companion loves physical contact with people of all ages and enjoys visiting public places. While some TD’s wear a bandana, they do not wear vests because it limits petting areas and might be confused with a service dog. Certified and registered TD’s wear a collar ID tag, while the handler carries an identification badge.

The use of therapy dogs in times of crisis has popularized the movement. The Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 was the first national tragedy that employed the use of therapy dogs in disaster relief. Their presence was requested by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and TDI sent a total of 20 teams to the site. In September 2001 approximately 500 animal-handler teams were sent to New York, New Jersey, and Virginia in response to the 9-11attack. But the list does not stop there. Therapy dogs have responded after disasters such as Hurricane Katrina in 2004, Virginia Tech in 2007, Northern Illinois University in 2008, Sandy Hook in 2012, and others.

TDI Certification

TD training began in 1976 when a nurse named Elaine Smith founded Therapy Dogs International (TDI) in New Jersey. Smith had witnessed positive patient responses to the dog that worked alongside the hospital’s chaplain. In 1977, the Delta Foundation, which is now Pet Partners, was created in Oregon by both physicians and veterinarians who noted the benefits of animals in their practices and personal lives. Both TDI and Pet Partners aim to foster the human-animal relationship and improve the daily lives of humans

TDI is a volunteer organization dedicated to regulating, testing and registering training dogs and their volunteer handlers for the purpose of visiting nursing homes, hospitals, assisted living facilities, disaster areas, and other institutions or situations where the therapeutic benefit of a TD is needed.

The Future of Therapy Dogs

Today about 24,750 dog-handler teams are registered with TDI and over 10,000 with Pet Partners. While the importance of TD’s is still being discovered, the demand for these dogs is very high and there are currently not enough teams to service all the people who need them.

TD experts believe that the need for certified dogs will increase, not only due to their success in disaster situations, but also to work with the increasing numbers of military personnel who are returning home with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

If you think your dog has the special qualities to become a certified TD or would like more information, contact:

Read Dr. Mackarey’s "Health & Exercise Forum" – Every Monday in the Scranton Times-Tribune.

This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email:

Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor  in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an associate professor of clinical medicine at The Commonwealth Medical College.