It is often said the love of a dog can work wonders on the human heart. Whether people believe in this or not, there is no denying the extraordinary work that can be accomplished through dog therapy.
“Let me ask you a question,” said William Pope, founder and director of assisted dog therapy and associate clinical professor in nursing. “When’s the last time you walked up to somebody in a wheelchair?”
Pope said those in society with mental or physical ailments are oftentimes exiled or excluded by others for being different, but dogs can act as a “social lubricant.”
“You put a golden retriever with somebody in a wheelchair, and then all of a sudden, you have something to talk about,” Pope said. “You find out that person in a wheelchair is just a normal person.”
Pope started a program called CAREing Paws approximately five years ago when an alumnus approached him.
“I started animal assisted therapy about 13 years ago when my mother was terminally ill,” Pope said. “I had a little dog and I used to take him to visit her, and I saw the effect he had not only on my mother, but on other people in the nursing home.”
Twice per week, Pope takes therapy dogs to Arbor Springs and Oak Park nursing homes, as well as the veteran home in Union Springs. He is often joined by nursing students who are eager to assist him.
“It’s really neat to watch,” Pope said. “The residents can’t wait for us to get there and they always ask about the dogs.”
The program Pope started has grown into a thriving one and said it opens the eyes of students and inspires them to involve themselves in other forms of therapy.
Sara Lowry, junior in exercise science, is excited with the study she is working on through the CAREing program.
“We are working specifically with veterans who have PTSD,” Lowry said. “When we visit, we bring the dogs with for two weeks, and then don’t bring them for two weeks so that we can prove the benefits of animal assisted therapy on mental health.”
Lowry said it is already obvious to her the incredible impact the dogs have on the veterans.
“When we walk in, the veterans automatically ask, ‘Where are the dogs?’” Lowry said.
The three dogs currently used for the program all belong to Pope, and two he trained himself. Besides the normal commands for dog training such as sit, stay and lie; Pope also has to, bathe and groom the animals every week.
“You have to start as a puppy socializing them,” Pope said. “Then you have to teach them to let you clean their ears and paws, and teach them not to bite.”
Miller, one of the oldest therapy dogs who is named after the nursing building, is trained one-on-one for 15-20 minutes a day, three times per day.
Kathryn Moseley, senior in rehab services, goes to Union Springs once per week because she said there is no greater feeling than the one from making someone’s day.
“It’s hilarious because I go there and do these things for these people, but I’m really helping me,” Moseley said. “I’ve had days where I’ve felt like crying, but when I take (a dog) there, it makes my day better.”
Besides the CAREing program Pope started, he also teaches an animal assisted therapy class.
Moseley said Pope allows students liberty to adapt the program to the type of work they want to do.
“I had a friend that worked with children with autism, and she would bring the dogs so that the kids that had speech problems could practice reading to the dogs,” Moseley said. “Dogs don’t judge you the way people do.”
Pope said the experience is rewarding not only for those intended for the therapy, but also sometimes the participants.
“The human-animal interaction is a bond that’s hard to define and may be even harder to describe,” Pope said. “But when you see it you know it.”
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