This Little Light of Mine ! [comfort dogs]

caring for puppies

published in the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Bulletin, summer edition 2011

by Leila Grandemange

What exactly is this wonderful word we call comfort?

One definition of comfort is somebody or something that brings relief from pain or anxiety. Comfort comes in many forms; sunlight, for example, is one of the greatest healing remedies found in nature. If only I could harness the warmth, comfort, and healing power of the sun, and dispense it all year round! Hmmm, maybe I can!

When I adopted my first Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, I had no idea I was purchasing a little piece of sunshine that would be available 24/7, rain or shine! This little light of mine soon became a close companion and personal “emotional support therapist!”During times of illness, sadness, or stress, my dogs bring relief in a way no human, doctor, or counselor can. Having received so much from my dogs, I want to share their comforting presence with those in need. Fortunately, my Cavaliers instinctively lead me into situations where they shine!

 

Shining at the beach

PP this little light of mine 6One summer day I came across a group of patients from a mental health institution sitting quietly at the beach. I noticed one patient staring at my Cavalier with longing eyes as my dog pulled to greet him. With the approval of the nurse, I permitted my dog to go to him and immediately the young man’s face lit up. Sounds of joy escaped from his lips as my dog instinctively snuggled in his lap. Before long, the other patients motioned for their turn, and my little sunshine was passed around so everyone could catch some rays! Although my dog had no formal “pet therapy” training other than being well socialized and happy, he proved to be a true “Comfort Spaniel.”

Shining with the elderly

Most of the elderly I meet thoroughly enjoy time spent sitting and petting my dog. Stroking a dog stimulates the mind and body. It calms nerves, relieves suffering, lifts moods, and soothes the soul. I’ve witnessed these benefits while visiting the elderly in nursing homes. Upon entering a room with my dog, something magical happens. Frowns turn to smiles, silence turns to laughter, and despair turns to hope! Their focus turns to my dog, and almost immediately they smile! I’ve seen laughter break out as my canine comedian licks the elderly person’s toes, nose, or does silly things only a dog can do. Laughter is good for the soul and a welcome relief from their pain or infirmity.
© PawznandPray.comOne unforgettable memory was seeing my Cavalier snuggle in the arms of an elderly lady who was bedridden and could barely move. She only had the use of one or her arms, but she grabbed hold of my dogs paw with all her heart. Although she couldn’t talk, she seemed peaceful and content as she lay by my dog. I was in awe . . .

Milan Kundra writes, “Dogs are our link to paradise. They don’t know evil or jealousy. To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious day is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring- it was peace.”

Shining with children

When a dog interacts with a child, the possibilities for healing, growth, and encouragement are endless. When a child has trouble reading for example, he can practice reading to a dog! Children know a dog won’t make them feel silly for pronouncing words incorrectly or for stuttering. They sense that dogs accept them as they are.

© PawzandPray.comGeorge Elliot writes, “We long for an affection altogether ignorant of our faults. Heaven has accorded this to us in this uncritical canine attachment.” Dogs seem blind to age, beauty, race, educational background, and our past. There is no criticism or judgment in their eyes. There are children all around us that don’t feel loved. Ugly, stupid, fat, jerk, geek—these are all unfortunate labels that humans place on each other. As a young child at school, I remember hearing my share of hurtful words. Yet my dog welcomed me home each day as if I was the most special person on earth! Curled up in my bed, I would tell him all my troubles and he licked every tear. He truly was like sunshine on a cloudy day! Dogs don’t see with human eyes; they love each child unconditionally!

Assuming a person is not afraid of dogs, most anyone can benefit from their comforting presence. Some of the benefits include reduced stress, lower blood pressure, relief from depression and anxiety, feeling accepted, hopeful, and unconditionally loved. Not everyone has the good fortune to own a dog however. The words of a well-loved Sunday school song come to mind, This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine…

So why not share a little sunshine?

The opportunities for our dogs to shine are endless! However, keep in mind that although Cavaliers are natural comforters, visiting with strangers can be unpredictable and scary. We need to work with them, exposing them to a variety of sights, sounds, and smells. Not every dog will be suitable for this kind of work. Proper socialization as a pup will lay a good foundation and help you evaluate your pet’s potential. If you would like more information about formal pet therapy training, there are numerous organizations  that can guide you. ( See information at the end of this article)

Life lessons from our dogs

Whether visiting granny at a nursing home, helping a child struggling to read, or interacting with people we meet on our walks, our dogs can make a difference! When I feel inadequate to reach out, I am reminded that right under my feet, on my sofa, or on the end of my leash is a little piece of sunshine! Maybe I’m biased, but I think we represent one of the most loving breeds on earth. I wonder if this quote was inspired by a Cavalier—

“If the essence of my being has caused a smile to have appeared upon your face or a touch of joy within your heart, then in living—I have made my mark.” —Thomas L. Odem, Jr.

Leila is the recipient of the AKC Responsible Dog Ownership Public Service Award. She writes to inspire love, care, and compassion for dogs. About the Author.

Visit Leila’s Amazon Author Central
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More information on Pet Therapy

Here is a brief summary of Pet Therapy in case you would like to learn more and possibly get involved:

Simple definition of Therapy Pets: The use of your pets to induce relaxation. For example, a certified therapy dog will work  with a patient to provide emotional comfort and encourage a positive state  of mind. Through affection, play and presence, the pet may also ease discomfort and pain. Pets can also be used for living assistance.

The therapeutic use of pets as companions has gained increasing attention in recent years. Unlike people, with whom our interactions are often complex and unpredictable, animals provide a constant source of comfort and focus for attention. Animals bring out our nurturing instinct, they make us feel safe and unconditionally accepted, and we can just be ourselves around our pets. They provide a source of hope and relief for a wide variety of patients- children in pediatrics, cancer patients, the elderly, the mentally ill and many others.

What is a Therapy Dog?

Therapy Dogs” “Therapy Pets” “Visiting pets” and “Pet Therapy” are a few of the names given to describe programs in which animals help people just by visiting with them. Today there are several more specific terms in use.

For example, the preferred use for the term Animal Assisted Therapy is for formal treatment programs, usually involving one particular animal and handler assigned to one particular client ( patient). The handler and the health care provider have specific goals to be accomplished, and plan how to accomplish those goals. The preferred use for more informal programs is Animal Assisted Activities.

The most commonly used term for a dog visiting in residential care facilities is “therapy dog,” but some prefer to say “visiting dog” when the visit is general, with no specific plan for a specific individual.

 


Links to help you get started

1. Pet Partners 

2. Therapy Dogs International ( TDI)

3. Love On A leash ( LOVE)

4. Assistance Dogs International

Earning the AKC Canine Good Citizen ( CGC) award is a great place to begin and find out if your pet has the potential to go further.

 


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4 thoughts on “This Little Light of Mine ! [comfort dogs]

  1. Leila,
    Perfect timing for your post! Oly is starting puppy classes next week to be followed by more advanced
    classes as he works towards becoming a Therapy Dog.
    He’s getting neutered next week in order to be able to stay enrolled in Doggy Daycare. Classes will start as soon as he is healed

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    1. Hi Pam, that’s awesome news! I’m so happy that he will be doing therapy work. He has the perfect personality for it too, and an amazing owner 😊 please send photos of him in action sharing the love. He will be a bright shinning ray of light to all in need. God bless you

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  2. One gift I get to share, is helping rookie handlers start building the partnerships that can develop into becoming Therapy Dogs here in Atlanta. I my training facility’s Pet Manners, and later Canine Good Citizen classes, we regularly ask students what their goals are for the class…and many hope to become Therapy Dog handlers with the partner on the other end of the leash. For the organizations in Atlanta, all consider the CGC test as the prerequisite for enrolling in more extensive classes to include things like medical equipment, longer stays with strangers (those Reading Assistant dogs need to settle in with their charges), and other specifics. While my own dogs haven’t been suited for the quiet calm of Therapy Dog work, I’m glad I’ve been able to help many others start their own journeys to this rewarding task.

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    1. That is so neat. Thank you for sharing that, and thank you for helping others start on their journey 🙂 I also began with the Canine Good Citizens, it’s a perfect way to get their feet wet and explore further the idea of pet therapy. I wish more pet owner would enroll in the CGC. It’s so good for both dog and handler. Bless you for all you do Pat! You inspire me x

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