Love Therapy

Like many children, 10-year-old Max Egener of Portland, Oregon, didn't like going to the dentist. That changed when Max met Morgan, a 6-year-old Yellow Labrador/Golden Retriever mix, a therapy dog at Dr. Allan Pike's Dentistry for Children in Portland.

"The dog is really helpful," says Max's mom, Teresa. "Morgan gets on the table and puts her head in his lap and comforts him. He hugs her when he's done."

The canine therapy program at Dr. Pike's office began when Julie Dubansky, a dental assistant, made a deal with a nervous little patient.

Dubansky told her: "If we fix your tooth, the next time you come, I'll bring my dog." When the mother called to confirm, she said, "Are you really going to bring your dog? Because we bought her a bone."

After the positive appointment, Dubansky, already a pet-therapy volunteer at Good Samaritan Hospital in Portland, began bringing Morgan and her other dog, Madison, to the office.

The dentist, Dr. Pike, is sold on dog-assisted therapy. "Some kids used to cry and scream before they came in," he says, "but now they ask about the dogs and pet them."

Making Miracles

As coordinator of, and a participant in, the Pet Assisted Therapy program for Oregon Health Sciences University, Carol Markt of West Linn, Oregon, says she's "seen miracles." "Once, my dog and I visited a man who was uncommunicative, sick and weak. But when he saw the dog, he smiled and reached for her. We visited him weekly, and he always called my dog 'Baby.'"

Susan Sherborne, a recreational therapist at Good Samaritan Hospital in Portland who has been involved in pet-assisted therapy for 20 years, has also witnessed dramatic results. "One little boy hit by a car was in a coma," she remembers. "A volunteer came in with a puppy who licked the boy's face. The boy actually laughed."

Karen Wertheimer, a recreational therapist and Sherborne's co-worker, recalls: "One young woman with a head injury reached out, petted the dog and smiled. No one else got through to her."

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Positive Influence

Pet-assisted therapy benefits patients by helping reduce tension, ease loneliness and lower blood pressure. "It's wonderful for people who've had strokes that cause language deficiencies, because it can help ease the frustration these patients may feel," says Gary Ward, a physician at Good Samaritan Hospital who signs orders for patients to receive pet therapy.

Heather Toland, Director of the Animal Assisted Therapy and Education Program at Dove Lewis Emergency Animal Hospital in Portland, says pet-assisted therapy is packed with positives. Volunteers enjoy impacting people's lives, and the staff enjoys interacting with the dogs.

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"Tremendous Response"

Lise Harwin, Public Relations Specialist for Legacy Health System, which operates Good Samaritan Hospital, agrees. "Pet therapy gets a tremendous response from our patients," she says. "The smiles and laughs these dogs bring can improve outcomes."

Harwin says Trueheart, a Bouvier owned by volunteer Marty Florian of Portland, visited a little boy who'd almost drowned and lost function of his foot and leg. "He was motivated to rub his foot on Trueheart's fur," she says. "The sensory response is really great."

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The Right Stuff

"Dogs are like humans, they need a job and purpose," says Matthew Margolis (aka Uncle Matty), dog behavior expert and host of the PBS series WOOF! It's a Dog's Life.

Your canine pal doesn't need to be Superdog to do therapy. Both Morgan and Madison are mixed breeds adopted from shelters. All that's really required is the right personality and attitude. To become a therapy dog, your dog must be friendly, calm, social and well trained.

"No one breed is best," Toland says. "Temperament is by far the most important. Dogs who work best in canine therapy are pro-social and enjoy seeking human interaction."

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Good Nutrition Is Crucial

Dog-therapy volunteers Julie Dubansky and Carol Markt emphasize the importance of a healthy diet for their working dogs. "Good nutrition is critical," Markt says, "since the dogs need to be in top physical condition to be accepted into the therapy program."

It's also important that the dogs be healthy so they don't infect patients who may have compromised immune systems. Quality dog foods provide:

  • Carefully selected, easy-to-digest chicken protein
  • A patented carbohydrate blend to maintain energy by maintaining normal blood sugar levels
  • A patented fiber system to help keep your dog's digestive system healthy and well functioning
  • Two different crunchy kibble sizes both of which help clean teeth

Read more about Dog Food Nutrition.

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