Therapy from four-legged friends

Credit to Michelle Carduner

Michelle Carduner shares the benefits and experience of owning a therapy dog. Her dog is Esme, a Golden Retriever.

What does a service dog do?

Michelle Carduner: Service dogs assist all types of people with all types of challenges. There are dogs that detect low blood sugar in diabetics, that can detect the onset of an epileptic seizure before the person actually has a seizure. They are trained to pick up various items from the floor to assist their handler, such as dropped keys. They are trained to open cabinets, turn lights on and off, and, of course, the standard assistance provided to the blind and hearing impaired.  here is a very special assistance dog that is used by many war veterans and civilians that cope with PTSD – these dogs are sensitive to changes in their handler’s emotions and they provide a great deal of comfort and confidence to the handler. A great book that outlines this is called “Tuesday.”

What are the benefits of animal therapy?

MC: There is a great program that is used in some schools that connects therapy dogs with children who are having a hard time reading. The child is more comfortable and relaxed reading to the dog, and gradually develops better skills and confidence. Visiting with people who are in long-term care facilities is one of the special tasks that animals trained for therapy perform. Many of the patients may have had to give up their dog and they love spending a few minutes with a dog. They can be so lonely because they rarely get a visitor. There are also people who can’t communicate due to illness and simply stroking a dog’s head provides them with some companionship. The dog doesn’t mind that they don’t speak clearly or that they are handicapped. Animal therapy is also very helpful to the nurses in these facilities as it gives them a few moments of calm distraction in their day!


Credit to Michelle Carduner

What training did Esme have to receive?

MC: Esme first had to pass all of her obedience training and receive a letter of medical clearance from her vet. We took our Therapy Dog training with St. John’s Ambulance. Once I had been trained, Esme then had to be tested to see how she would react to various events. The first part of the test was observing her behaviour around all of the other dogs. If she had growled or acted aggressive, she would be automatically failed. The examiner also tested her to see how she would react to various different noises and sudden movements and she had to be calm enough to not react if someone bumped into her with a wheelchair.

What prompted you to train her as a service dog?

MC: Esme provided me with a great deal of comfort when I was away from home. I had more confidence knowing that she was with me. I had trained her how to act in various stores and at the bank, so I knew that she would be calm enough to visit with the patients. I wanted to volunteer somewhere and this was something that she and I could do together.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

MC: Esme has gone to visit a Grade 1 and 2 class where we talked to the kids about what assistance dogs do for people and what Esme does for her patients as a therapy dog. The Grade 1 class then made a wreath, using cut-outs of their hands for Christmas for the patients, which they absolutely loved!

Lauren Rudy

A journalism student hoping to explore the world.

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