Dr. Dog Will See You Now

The calendar flashes December 18th. Finals week. Pencils, papers, and books labeled AP Lit, physics, and AP U.S History drown the top of the table; Starbucks cups are the only blanket of optimism for the stress-driven teenagers.

As they furiously scribble on study guides and skim through books, out of the corner of their eyes, they spot something. They dare question if their sleep deprivation is getting to them. It’s strange, unusual; nothing like this has ever been spotted in a public library.

The picture slowly forms into a whole as the fluffy, golden figure ascends the staircase; escorted by a woman displaying a warm smile accented with rosy, red cheeks. “Is that a dog in the library?”

As Josh O’Shea, young adult librarian of the Glen Ellyn Public Library and the organizer for events, states, the reason why the library invites therapy dogs in is because they “…like[s] the idea of having animals in a space where they normally aren’t.”

To students who are not aware, the Glen Ellyn Public Library has been hosting therapy dog volunteer visits for the past four years during finals week to allow students to relieve their stress.

O’Shea adds that “This is a way that [he] can affirm that [he] wants [students] [t]here. That this is a special time, it’s important for them to do well with their school work and so [he] want[s] to help support them in different ways.”

Therapy dogs help those from hospitalized patients to those who just need to relieve stress by encouraging petting time, participation in physical rehabilitation, or, for children with learning disabilities, the confidence to read out loud to someone who can’t talk back.

Dr. Beisner, vet for over 12 years and currently employed at the Wheaton Animal Hospital for the past six years, explains that the reason why dogs are so fit for the job is because, “Dogs are people-pleasers, so that’s the perfect situation. Especially if you have a Lab[rador] or a Golden [Retriever]. I mean those dogs just thrive off of being around people.”

According to David Maxwell Braun’s September 29th, 2009 The health and emotional benefits of human-animal interaction article in National Geographic as stated by Lara Suziedelis Bogle, it is “reported that ‘therapy dogs’ seem to boost the health of sick and lonely people.” Braun says, ‘Therapy dogs offer a different kind of help. Some pay informal social visits to people to boost their spirits, while others work in a more structured environment with trained professionals like physical therapists and social workers to help patients reach clinical goals, such as increased mobility or improved memory.”

Mary Jane O’Connor, volunteer for Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital’s pet therapy program for about nine years, has been training rescued Greyhounds for about eleven years. She explains, “When visiting hospitals, we usually have a specific patient or resident whom we are coming to see.  Some of our folks are very frail and unable to sustain a conversation, but we will make an attempt to talk with them. We guide our therapy dog to their field of vision, and will assist them to pet the dog if they indicate interest. We may discuss our visiting dog, or perhaps a pet dog which the patient has had, and that may be the starting point for talking about a variety of other topics.”

Therapy dogs are very beneficial for not only the patient but also for the owner and the dog.

“It started out with my puppy, Buddy, when my mom was in the hospital and she said one day that dogs came to visit her at the hospital and I’m like, ‘Are you kidding? I didn’t know dogs could go in the hospital!’ So we started our training,” Jayme Hackett, former dog trainer for about twenty years in Peoria, Illinois, explains.

Although rewarding for all parties, such gratification has to be delayed by the years of training and patience.

Hackett continued to explain the training process, saying, “We would go through special training with our dogs and we’d basically go through obedience training and then they have to have their Canine Good Citizenship award and that’s [saying] they do well around other folks. And then have special training for IV poles, wheelchairs, and sudden movements, and maybe shaky hands, just to kind of see if [the dog’s] temperament is right for it.”

Cathy Meo, current pet therapy dog trainer for about four years, explains her fascination sprouted when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.  Meo says she “noticed that in chemotherapy with kids, they actually have pet therapy dogs, which is just terrific but they don’t have them for adults in this area so [she] said ‘I’ll be back.’”

Psychology Today’s June 7th, 2009 “Health and Psychological Benefits if Bonding with a Pet Dog” article by Stanley Coren, PhD, states, “[P]sychologist Alan Beck of Purdue University and psychiatrist Aaron Katcher of the University of Pennsylvania actually measured what happens physically when a person pets a friendly and familiar dog. They found that the person’s blood pressure lowered, heart rate slowed, breathing became more regular and muscle tension relaxed-all of which are signs of reduced stress.”

Glenbard West senior Alyssa McMillan, owner of two dogs, believes that all dogs ever want to do is satisfy their owner and take care of them the best they know how. McMillan says, “They’re really cuddly, so you get to sit on the couch with them after a really long day. They always make you smile when you walk through the door because they’re all happy to see you, it makes your day.”

Whether it’s needing stress relief at the library, help with walking or talking, or a simple smile after a long day, dogs will always be there to lend a furry head to pet. Big breed or small breed, through thick fur and thin fur, dogs know exactly what to prescribe to make any negative feelings dissipate.