Archive for October, 2010

25Oct

Everyone needs a hand now and again. And sometimes we could use a paw or a two. Yes, that’s right. We are not talking service animals suited to one person, but therapy and care dogs. The practice of using therapy dogs to comfort sick, wounded and otherwise incapacitated people began in World War II. A Yorkshire Terrier named Smoky was to become an unlikely accomplice to one Corporal William Wynne. She was purchased for $2.40 AUD ($2.32 USD), when he was stationed on New Guinea. Adjusting for inflation, the dog would have cost approximately $36.00 today. As you will learn, it turned out to be a wise investment for this young Corporal.

In addition to boosting morale and providing comfort and amusement to Wynne’s compatriots, she accompanied the Corporal on numerous missions. One such task had her stringing out telegraph cable in an exercise that would have otherwise put Wynne’s group in mortal danger. The ability to fit into smaller places than could he or his troops, she time and again proved herself invaluable.

Later on, when Wynne became ill with Yellow Fever and was hospitalized, a visiting Smoky quickly earned the love and adoration of the soldiers in Wynne’s wing of the hospital. Offering comfort to those who were wounded, severely disabled and depressed, she turned many of their spirits around. Indeed, if an animal can do this during wartime, imagine what she or he could do in a hospital.

And it is that which inspires us to this day, the therapy dog’s perseverance, intelligence and gentle demeanor. Therapy dogs are not bound to a single breed, but one thing that all of them have in common is their temperament. A therapy dog worth her coat must be patient, sweet mannered, confident, gentle and must maintain a mellow disposition in the face of all manner of distractions and goings-on.

It is very important that they enjoy the company of people. Everyone loves to pet and handle a therapy dog. Hospitals are some of the most depressing and dismal places one can have the misfortune to stay and a therapy dog helps to lift the veil, if however briefly and let a little ray of hope shine through.

There is an important distinction between service/assistance and therapy dogs. Service dogs directly assist their human owners in day-to-day activities, from getting around town to taking out the trash. They are legally protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Service dogs are allowed to go into any building or vehicle that their owner may. Conversely, therapy dogs do not enjoy such protections and may be refused access based on their status. Additionally, they work with many people in their work, not just one. Service animals tend to work with one person only and then after a certain age, are retired, after which they become pets. One thing that both types of dogs have in common besides the breeds commonly utilized is their rigorous and highly detailed training regimen. Both classes of dog must undergo general and highly specific training in order to be certified to do certain tasks.

One task at which therapy dogs excel hearkens back to the Terrier, Smoky. Therapy dogs of every hue and shape are a common sight in children’s hospitals and hospice wards for the elderly. Their loving, patient manner coupled with their playfulness brightens the lives of young and old alike, provided some much needed respite and enjoyment, to let them forget, if only for a moment, their pain and unhappiness. Therapy dogs truly are one of the greatest things; a masterful blending of fun and compassion which has the universal power to give hope where there was none, bring a smile to a face where before there was only sorrow and instill peace where before there was only chaos. Ironically, they have also been known to mediate between squabbling family members where nurses and doctors proved unsuccessful.

Put him or her in a Superhero costume and cape; they deserve nothing less.