Hello everyone! Your friend Tuki coming to you from my perch here at the Potter League. I see all kinds of people coming and going while sitting on my perch and they all want to help the animals here at Potter. There is the staff, the volunteers, and best of all, the people who come in to adopt one of our animals and give them a loving home.
While I see all these wonderful people helping out the animals, I know there are a lot of ways us animals can help you humans too!
Assistance dogs help people with disabilities become more able and give them more freedom and independence. There are three kinds of assistance dogs.
Guide dogs are for people who are blind or visually impaired and help them avoid obstacles, and keep them safe, especially from cars when walking.
Hearing dogs help those who are deaf and hard of hearing and are trained to lead their person towards sounds such as a doorbell, telephone or a crying baby.
Service dogs are trained to help people with all types of disabilities: Those who are in a wheelchair or have difficulty walking, people with autism, those who have medical issues like seizures or low blood sugar, and people with mental health issues. These dogs can be trained to open doors, turn lights on and off, pick up dropped items, help with balance, and provide deep pressure which can be calming for some people.
Organizations that train assistance dogs sometimes need volunteers to take care of a mother dog who is having puppies that will be trained as assistance dogs or be a ‘puppy raiser’ and take care of a puppy from about 8 weeks to 1 year old before the puppy starts training as an assistance dog.
Therapy animals provide comfort, affection, and help relieve stress in a variety of places. Therapy animals have been around for a long time, but research into the topic started in the 1960’s when a child psychologist named Boris Levinson wrote about the positive effect his dog had on his patients. The most recent research tells us that interaction with animals has a small to medium effect on distress but it’s not clear whether this is from interaction with the animals or something else.*
Therapy animals visit people in nursing homes, hospitals, schools, and homeless shelters or after a natural disaster such as a tornado or hurricane to provide love and comfort. Therapy animals, especially therapy dogs, are typically a family pet that has received training with their owner and they go wherever they are needed. Therapy animals even visit airports to help people who are traveling, which I hear can be very stressful. Assisted living facilities and nursing homes sometimes have animals that live there and provide constant companionship for the human residents.
When we hear about therapy animals we usually hear about dogs, but almost any animal can be a therapy animal. Caring for horses can be helpful for people with behavioral issues and has been shown to lower blood pressure so it’s probably good for everyone! Smaller animals like rabbits and guinea pigs can provide the same type of support and comfort as their larger friends – and even birds like me can be therapy animals!
One of the great things a therapy animal can do is help kids learn to read. Some kids have trouble reading or are self-conscious reading in front of their classmates and when they sit down to read to a dog (for these programs, its’s mostly dogs that are the helpers!), they know that the dog won’t judge them so they relax and just focus on their reading. Associating reading with something that makes them happy helps improve their reading skills and encourages them become excited about reading.
Search and rescue dogs help police and fire departments find people who are lost or missing. Dogs are especially good at this because of their excellent sense of smell – they can be trained to find any person or a specific person based on that person’s scent. They can help find a missing child or a patient with Alzheimer’s disease who has wandered away from home. They may also help locate someone who has been buried in an avalanche or in a collapsed building after an earthquake.
Because dogs have a great sense of smell, they also work with police departments and the military to ‘sniff out’ bombs, drugs, and substances used in arson. Some dogs can even be trained to detect cancer!
I guess that humans and animals make a great team in all kinds of situations! Here are some places to look if you want to learn more:
Assistance Dogs International: www.assistancedogsinternational.org
Therapy Dogs International: www.tdi-dog.org
Search and Rescue Dogs of the United States: www.sardogus.org