By Siobhan Cassidy
Approximately 74.8 million individually owned dogs live in America as household pets. Your dog is probably one of these four-legged friends. But did you ever think your dog could have a job assisting people?
“The bond between human and dog is natural,” explains Dr. David Roy Hensen who is the founder of Patchogue Rotary Animal Assisted Therapy (PRAAT), along with wife Dr. Deirdre M. Hensen.
Dr. Hensen visited the Ammerman campus Psychology Club Sept. 30 in the Southampton building to discuss PRATT and animal assisted therapy. PRAAT was created when the Hensens wanted to get involved with their community. Enhancing this natural relationship came as an obvious idea to him and his wife. PRATT assigns dogs to visit various hospitals, mental facilities, libraries and schools to spread this natural connection through love and compassion.
Dr. Dave Hensen discussed the difference between animal-assisted therapy and animal-assisted activity with about 25 students who attended the lecture.
An activity dog does not have a job but is allowed to visit various facilities. During their meet-and-greet visit the dogs help give and hopefully receive love and compassion. Therapy dogs have specific jobs to do with stated goals. They are individually placed with patients for a one on one connection. Some goals therapy dogs will have to achieve are: picking up dropped items, bringing items from room to room for the individual, protecting the individual and playing. Ultimately, the therapy dogs at PRATT have a lot on their paws in comparison to activity dogs.
“Therapy dogs are incredibly successful,” Dr. Dave Hensen said. In fact, recently a story aired on The Early Show about dogs teaching children to read.
“Reading out loud helps reading comprehension. And reading to a dog is apparently less scary than reading to a person,” The Early Show’s resident veterinarian, Dr. Debbye Turner explains. Recent studies indicate 40 percent of children in the United States are reading below a fourth-grade level. Principal Kathy Brake at Washington Grove School, where therapy dogs are used to improve children’s reading level, mentions that reading needs to be fun to keep children interested. When the children are interested they will read more, improving their reading comprehension. She admits, ” ‘If we don’t have children reading on grade-level by the end of the second grade, we begin to lose them.” Therapy dogs seem to be successful in this area, especially since they are free of charge.
Animal-assisted therapy offers numerous benefits, many that resemble a pet owner’s benefits. Dr. Hensen lists them as unconscious but effective benefits. People tend to live longer with the compassion of a pet, possibly because it gives the person a job to do and a purpose in life. These dogs leave a permanent memory imprint. Dogs can enhance self-esteem and responsibility of any person, at any age.
“Dogs are totally unjudgemental,” Dr. Hensen explains. People may feel more comfortable around a dog rather than another person.
Although animal-assisted therapy has been around for the past 10-15 years, it is becoming more popular with local veterinarians today. In this harsh economic time, this type of therapy is effective and not highly priced. These dogs are leaving a hefty paw print in many people’s memories, and will continue to do so for several years.