A Supportive Paw

Good Morning! I hope your weekend has been a pleasant and relaxing one, thus far! On Friday, the temperatures ended up being extremely oppressive and uncomfortable with the humidity soaring, making it nearly impossible to be outside for more than a short period of time. Also, I made the poor decision of leaving my flip flops in a closed, sweltering car, which almost melted them! Lesson learned, for sure. Thankfully, they were able to be salvaged after taking some time to cool off in my air-conditioned house!

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Anyhow, given I follow several local television news stations in the area, I recently noticed my local ABC News affiliate, 6ABC Action News of Philadelphia, shared an article via social media (i.e. Facebook and Twitter) and since having stumbled across it on Thursday evening, it’s been on my mind. It’s not the first time I’ve heard of animals, in particular dogs, assisting in the most unique ways and providing a source of comfort, encouragement and companionship to people, even those they just met; (To preview the article/story I’m speaking of, here is a link, if you’d like to check it out: http://6abc.com/pets/newest-court-employee-dog-providing-comfort-to-kids-on-the-stand/778441/)

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In the city of Poughkeepsie, NY, specially-trained service dogs, will now be a permanent presence in the courthouse with the ability to provide children with support and comfort, as they take the stand, a task which can be anxiety-ridden and overwhelming for anyone, let alone children. Dogs such as Bosch, the canine featured in the article, will be trained by nonprofit organizations, such as the East Coast Assistance Dogs (ECAD), which, according to the article, has trained over 250 canines thus far and has been able to assist in an array of situations for over 20 years.

Employees of ECAD stated that the dogs provide children with the feeling that they can “tell their stories in a safe way.” The dogs are trained to sense anxiety and stress and perhaps already harbor an innate sense of recognizing these signs of distress. I was more than intrigued after reading this article and seeing how helpful and significant a dog’s presence can truly be. It’s not the first time I’ve read about an initiative such as this and in fact, I have experienced something relatively similar myself.

Years ago and fairly recently, as well, while waiting in my local hospital’s emergency room (both for myself and family members, at one point), a man walked through with a golden retriever on a leash. Instantly, I noticed the faces on many of the people’s faces light up. They were instantly taken with the sight of the friendly dog, who casually and happily walked over to many of them, greeting them and sending friendly and relaxed vibes through the otherwise, tense room. It was hard to be sad when in the presence of this dog and for a short while, he provided the room (and most definitely, me) with a pleasant distraction.

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In another instance, I also learned of a program where children read to dogs, as a form of therapy, comfort and a source of reassurance. One organization in particular, Therapy Dogs International (http://www.tdi-dog.org/OurPrograms.aspx?Page=Children+Reading+to+Dogs), state that their mission in providing the program is:

“To provide a relaxed and “dog-friendly” atmosphere, which allows students to practice the skill of reading. Many of the children chosen for this program have difficulties reading and as a result have developed self-esteem issues. They are often self-conscious when reading aloud in front of other classmates.

By sitting down next to a dog and reading to the dog, all threats of being judged are put aside. The child relaxes, pats the attentive dog, and focuses on the reading. Reading improves because the child is practicing the skill of reading, building self-esteem, and associating reading with something pleasant.”

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Ever since I was first made abreast of this program, it’s always been on my mind and I am in full support of it. Having worked with a vast array of children in school settings throughout the course of my life and having weathered through a host of self-esteem issues myself, there is nothing better than providing children with an alternative way to foster a love of reading and a boost of confidence.

My reason for this post today, is my desire to share with you, whomever may be reading, of the many ways dogs can often offer us something well-beyond what traditional therapies and “scientifically” proven methodologies can. It is proof that sometimes, the only “medicine” or “treatment” a child, or anyone, for that matter, truly needs, is unconditional love and unwavering support. A supportive presence, helping hand (or paw) and listening ear can make all the difference.

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