For centuries, people have benefited from a unique relationship with dogs. Canines have served faithfully as pets and companions. They have shown notable prowess in protective and service-related applications. More recently, dogs have been utilized therapeutically with cancer patients — to wide acclaim from those patients, their families and professionals as well.
“They’re specially trained animals who visit with adults and children in the hospital to help them feel better both emotionally and physically,” the health information site WebMD says. “Most of these dogs live at home with their owners and make routine visits to cancer facilities.”
The website describes the duration of visits as varied, with a wide reach within facilities that are served.
“The visits usually last less than two hours, and the animals typically stay with each person for about 15 to 20 minutes,” the website states. “Dogs can go to rooms, treatment areas like chemotherapy suites, and lounges or group areas.”
Experts locally are aware of this new asset in cancer treatment, and they give it high marks.
“Therapy animals can be absolutely comforting and reassuring to cancer patients,” Amy Shojai, a local pet columnist, said. “Those of us who share our lives and our hearts with an animal can understand that connection. They are a family member and a non-judgmental presence even when patients may not feel right or look their best.”
Shojai said there are essential benefits for patients and family members as well.
“Therapy animals are warm and comforting to someone who is going through the challenges of cancer treatment. Just their mere presence can lower blood pressure and relieve stress,” she said. “Family members can also benefit as they are in need of support as well.”
Shojai points out that animals that don’t have formal training can be of therapeutic value as well.
“If someone is in a treatment protocol where there are no formal therapy animals, their own animals can become that therapy presence when they get home,” Shojai said. “So don’t think they have to have a little jacket and a label and go through training. Dogs and cats, they kind of figure it out.”
Other experts echo Shojai’s observations.
“Animal-assisted therapy has been shown to reduce stress, improve mood and energy levels, and decrease perceived pain and anxiety,” Cancer Treatment Centers of America states on its website. “It may also provide a sense of companionship that combats feelings of isolation.”
Located in five major cities, the consortium of cancer-treating centers added, “Dogs are most commonly therapy pets, although other domesticated pets, farm animals and even dolphins have been used in some circumstances.”