Man’s best friend might have more to offer than a friendly smile and slobbery kisses. Therapy dogs are growing in popularity and have been shown to help with stress management and self-esteem. The Pony Express Therapy Dog program celebrated the graduation of 18 new therapy dogs Saturday afternoon at the Abundant Life Center.
The program celebrated dogs of several breeds, including Smudge, a deaf poodle. Rosan Bowers has had Smudge since she was a puppy and trained her to be a therapy dog approximately 5 years ago. Bowers said therapy dogs provide emotional and mental health support for anyone that comes in contact with them.
“They are comforting, they lower blood pressure, they are very calming and as people know, they just go up to pet a dog and you feel good,” Bowers said.
Pony Express Therapy Dogs Executive Director Bill Luce said the dogs go through an obedience evaluation and a health exam before they can receive certification. Dogs must be trained well enough to sit, stay, come when called, walk comfortably beside their handler.
After the animals receive their certification, they can be brought into public spaces like schools and nursing homes for various community outreach programs.
“We go to a number of nursing homes, that’s probably our bread and butter. A lot of these people don’t have a great deal of human contact, let alone animal contact. Some of them have left their dogs at home or they remember dogs that they’ve had in the past that they not longer can have.So it gives that connection. There is a special connection between people and dogs, or any animal for that matter,” Luce said.
The dogs are trained to remain calm in public spaces and provide emotional support and stress relief for the people around them.
Several therapy dogs like Smudge also make appearances on the first Saturday of each month at the Eat Hills Library for kids wanting to practice their reading skills. Bowers often takes Smudge to visit local schools to help kids improve their reading in a non-judgmental setting
“A lot of times the kids are not intimidated, because there is no judgement with the dogs.The dogs just sit and listen to them, they look at the pictures and they read with them,” Bowers said.
Owners said the training prior to certifying their pets can take several weeks of work, but the feeling of their dog being able to help others is well worth the time they put in.
“You can see the good that your dog does, how helpful he is to other people. It’s hard not to get involved in this and I would encourage anyone who wants to get involved to do so,” Luce said.
The Pony Express Therapy Dog program will host another evaluation in April for anyone interested in certifying their pet as a therapy dog. For more information contact Bill Luce at William_luce49@yahoo.com.