Animals can offer a sense of companionship, comfort, and unconditional love. When there is a positive interaction between the animal and human, healthful benefits can result. There is sufficient evidence supporting the efficacy of utilizing therapy dogs in substance abuse treatments.
The benefits that therapeutic animals can provide have been across the board in a variety of facilities and settings. As early as the 16th century, the use of animals in a therapeutic design has been documented with disabled persons as well as the mentally ill.
It was more around the 18th century, where the therapeutic value of animals was really discovered by a nurse by the name of Florence Nightengale . She found that a “pet” can offer great comfort to those experiencing an illness.
The term “pet therapy” was initially brought forth in 1964 by Dr. Boris Levinson. He found a therapeutic element that a dog was able to provide to a young boy. This spoke volumes about what “pet therapy” could do for others, as it was insight into the positive benefits other people could receive.
“[As the boy] was able to relax his defenses, he was then better able to relate to others.” This finding was a remarkable turning point in which, the use of dogs as well as other animals therapeutically in many settings would influence change to follow.
Sigmund Freud was also instrumental in the use of therapy dogs through observations in his own research. He found in his own practice that the presence of his dog significantly shifted the way patients reacted. Freud’s work and Dr. Levinson, as well as other doctors and researchers, paved the way to initiating pet therapy as part of a health support system.
Therapy Dogs International (TDI) in 1976, would go on to be one of the first therapy animal associations. Created by Elaine Smith a nurse, who simply had a vision to help the patients that she served. She observed through her work, the positive reactions the patients had when visited by a friendly dog companion.
TDI continues to this day to train dogs, educate, and advocate for the use of therapy dogs in a variety of facilities to help people heal. There have since been other organizations that have followed, such as Pet Partners and American Kennel Association, that have also formed the similar missions and visions for therapy dogs in the health field.
Research has found many therapeutic benefits through the use of therapy dogs. Studies have shown that therapeutic animals can help reduce stress, anxiety, and nervousness. Animals can add a sense of comfort and acceptance without judgment of a person. They also help elevate one’s mood, encourage appropriate touch, and increase ability to express feelings.
“Pet’s love, can help reduce anxiety, decrease blood pressure and triglyceride levels, moderate the effects of stress, and build sense of empathy.”
As it relates to addiction treatment, positive results have been reached, especially with resistant clients. The use of animals helps to facilitate building bonds and trust.
Over the years, great process has been made in researching the positive effects that animals can have in the healing process. One pilot study evaluated the benefits yielded by use of therapeutic animals (particularly the use of dogs).Ultimately, they hoped to determine if…
“the use of animal assisted therapy with substance abusers, would help identifying and intervening with self-defeating patterns in thought, actions, and feeling, especially those that might contribute to relapse.”
Participants in the study were clients at a rehabilitation center in Troy, New York. It took place over a 12 week period weekly.The study helped to break stigma associated with certain dog breeds (eg. Pitbulls), and fed positive and meaningful interactions, better understanding of client thoughts, feelings, and behaviors current or presently observed.
Participants were able to integrate their experiences with the dogs into their recovery process. Clinically, clearer insight into the clients’ feelings and behaviors is gained through this process as well.
Another supporting study was conducted in a prison setting. These prisoners suffered from addiction, traumas, and or mental illnesses.
“Particular attention is given to how the dog’s involvement can support a trauma-informed approach to prisoner treatment and healing”.
This therapy dog program had two specific objectives: to offer support AND love to both dogs and their handlers. The support is what facilitates healing through addressing the health concerns of the prisoners through use of the dogs.
Safety was one area that this study identified as important-ensuring that all people were physically and psychologically safe when interacting with the dogs.
In conjunction with safety, trust was another area considered. The hope was that the interactions with the dogs would help foster trust of the dogs as well as human relationships. Peer support and mutual self-help was a third area supported in this study. One participant stated that “when I see [the dogs] I find a bit of courage and can spend time with people”. The therapeutic interactions of the dogs help to strengthen one’s courage with those around them.
Lastly, one of the last area of this study was enforcement, voice, and choices. When interacting with the dog, sometimes the prisoners would choose to “speak in a still and assertive voice to encourage [the dog].” “Other times, they [made] a positive choice to help her settle down.”
“Sometimes in their personal choices the clients had become empowered by the visits with the dogs, that they then made choices for themselves that would impact them in a positive manner”.
There was an instance where there was an individual that was having trouble with hygiene. The visits from the dogs helped to empower their choice to take care of their hygienic needs.
Bridging the Gaps welcomes therapy-dog- in-training Rodie to our family. Roadie is a 5 month old Golden Retriever puppy who loves to play, explore, and make new friends. Rodie has recently completed his first training on the journey to becoming a certified Therapy Dog for the clients here at BTG.
As in the studies that were mentioned, Rodie will serve a therapeutic purpose of meeting the clients where they are. He will serve as a therapy dog, used as an animal assisted intervention.
This is “any intervention that intentionally includes or incorporates animals as part of a therapeutic or ameliorative process or milieu.”
We will continue to follow the journey that Rodie will emBARK on with BTG, as he progresses through training, growing, and playtime, and engaging in therapeutic work. We are so excited to welcome Rodie to the team!
Check out Instagram for updates on Rodie – bridgingthegaps.winchester