By Larissa Gula
We ask so often for our amazing community of supporters to give to the Western PA Humane Society, and we are always amazed and thankful each time you come forward to help us continue with our mission each day.
Now, we want to talk about how the same animals – specifically, canines – you once supported are giving directly back to your community at large.
As you may know, the Western PA Humane Society offers obedience classes for dog owners; during these classes, our amazing educators have the chance to work directly with a number of dogs, many of who were rescued from local shelters. If our educators see signs of a promising therapy dog, they talk to that dog’s owner about Therapy Dog International testing, which is held periodically at our North Shore shelter.
Once certified, TDI dogs are able to work almost anywhere in the community. Ask around our shelter, and you’ll find that a number of our volunteers with therapy dogs work in community homes, libraries, schools, and more on a regular basis. It’s absolutely a beautiful sight to behold, seeing so many of our rescued and adopted dogs interacting with people who need a dose of puppy kisses in their life.
And by the way, puppy love is a legitimate part of a healthy lifestyle (unless, of course, you’re allergic to puppies). There really are massive benefits to being around any animal. At a basic level, any pet, therapy dogs included, create a feeling of relaxation in the people they interact with – their presence contributes to the creation of the hormones that calm people and combat stress by lowering levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. Being around animals has also been shown to lower blood pressure, cholesterol levels, triglyceride levels, and feelings of loneliness. In plain English: animals make you healthier. Medical professionals know this; some use therapy dogs on a regular basis to help with interact with patients.
One of the best benefits from being around animals is increased socialization, which is why therapy dogs can be so useful when interacting with patients with depression or anxiety. Here in Pittsburgh, University of Pittsburgh students get their own chance to socialize with new people every week, when our shelter’s volunteers go to the school for one hour each Tuesday to talk to students. Friendships have definitely formed at this program. I should know; many of the relationships I hold dear started at that program when I was a student, and eventually led to a number of employment and volunteer opportunities. Now THAT’S a benefit of therapy dogs you don’t hear about very often!
How many of you have worked or met with a therapy dog from our shelter? Which one was it?