Dog Therapy: The Best Kind of Medicine
It’s the kind of standing appointment patients look forward to. Every Tuesday, two friendly furry friends visit Ohio Valley General Hospital’s Willow Brook facility. Gracie is 6, and her daughter, Holly, 3. The golden retriever dynamic duo are therapy dogs cared for by a hospital volunteer, Ray Koper and his wife, Shirley.
Gracie and Holly are part of Therapy Dog, International. It’s a volunteer organization that registers dogs for the purpose of visiting nursing homes and hospitals. To join the organization, all dogs must be tested by a certified evaluator. They have to be at least one year old, and be able to pass a yearly physical and a temperament evaluation. This includes interacting with people who use service equipment (a test not all dogs can pass!).
As their handler, Shirley also had to pass a test to ensure she can maintain control over them in any situation. She’s been bringing them to the hospital for the last year; about the same amount of time Gracie has been a therapy dog. Holly has been doing it for two years; getting involved because she was too big to be a show dog like her brother, Willy. Holly has since been awarded a TDIA title (Therapy Dog International Active), as she has made well over 50 visits to hospitals. Ray Koper says golden retrievers make great therapy dogs, because “they are gentle and loving; people love them.” He added that with their positive temperament, you don’t have to worry about how they will interact with strangers.
Animal-assisted therapy is not a new concept. From visiting local hospitals to victims of violence, research has shown that a dog’s optimism can go a long way. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, simply petting a dog can decrease levels of stress hormones and lower blood pressure. Petting a dog also can also release oxytocin, a hormone that increases the level of affection in both dogs and humans.
OVGH Willow Brook patients certainly enjoy seeing the girls every week. Patients in the Geropsychiatric Unit are provided with short-term inpatient services for their mental health needs. But as Gracie and Holly prove, sometimes a paw-shake with a friendly dog is the best kind of therapy!