|Chloe & Sophie|
My Own Inspirational Story Of Recovery and The Bond Between Dogs and Humans By: Matthew Johnson of Waggz & Whiskerz
Each day more and more therapist, doctors and health professionals are becoming aware of the amazing therapeutic benefits of involving dogs in patient recovery. Today dogs are used with brain injury patients, elderly, physically impaired as well as patients in hospitals and treatment centers. The natural instinct of a dog, its loyalty, unconditional love and its pure joy at seeing a friend really make them a wonderful asset to any therapy program.
Therapy that involves dogs, known as Animal-Assisted therapy, is used in many different settings in several different areas. The dogs can be involved in helping with fine motor control as the patients move their arms and fingers to pet and brush the dogs as part of their therapy process.
This is one of the steps I personally had to take with the use of Dutch (A.K.A Woofie) my own special Therapy dog. Large muscle therapy is also completed when the patients take the dogs for walks or on outings to parks and recreational areas. Thankfully I was located at Sunnybrook Hospital, which also is home to one of the largest dog parks in Toronto.
When I was re learning how to walk again, one of my main goals was to be able to walk with Dutch (A.K.A Woofie) while on leash and for upwards to 15 Min at a time. My physiotherapist Cynthia Benchetrit helped me achieve this goal by using obstacles that I would endure in reality and incorporating them into my physiotherapy routines at the hospital. Learning how to walks again was no walk in the park but eventually it led to actual walks in the park so I am thankful for
Unfortunately little did I know I would suffer another major blow, not only did I have to learn to physically walk again, I would also have to learn how to overcome walking as a task endurance wise.
After 3 weeks of muscle training and baby steps with a walker and assistance from Cynthia and a wheel chair at times when things got out of control, I was finally ready to start walking with Dutch (A.K.A Woofie).
Then it got worse. After having three minor attacks doctors learned that my heart function (LeftVentricle, LVEF) was only working at 54% due to meningococcal related infection accompanied with hypertension and a blood pressure of 120/166. Now one of the main tasks I had to learn was to regain my cardiovascular strength and to do it fast. This would not of been possible if I did not have Dutch (A.K.A Woofie) to walk with me in 5 min intervals until my strength was at the point of being able to walk for 15 min 3 times a day consecutively.
This proved to me that therapy dogs work so well with patients and I could see this first hand. Many doctors believe that the unconditional love of the dog helps patients gain self-confidence and self-esteem. I know that if Dutch hadn’t been there for me, I would not of been so confident to try walking again.
My confidence to regain my dignity and self-esteem also came in the form of companionship from another dog during my stay at Sunnybrook. Chloe the Fox Hound the proud and lovable dog owned by the Pattison Family of North York (Clients of mine). Chloe also came to visit me while I was in the hospital numerous times. Her motivational visits pushed me to want to work harder and faster and her unconditional love proved to me that even un-official therapy dogs could be therapeutic regardless of their certification.
This proved to me and showed me that caring for or spending time with a dog is something that can bring patients back to a more positive time in their life. Regardless of exactly how or why dog therapy works so well with patients is not as important as the fact that it really does work.
Dogs can also be used as a friend for many patients. While spending 6 weeks in the hospital made me feel shut in and isolated I used Dutch’s Sophie (Sophie is my sisters dog who came to visit me after one of my ear surgeries) and Chloe’s visits as a chance to interact with other living things that didn’t feel sorry for me or judge my current situation.
Dogs are very non-judgmental and are always happy to see us patients, which is very positive for both emotionally and socially.
Therapy dogs are not a specific breed or type of dog, nor do they have to a certain age or size. Usually therapy dogs are medium to large sized dogs but there are many small dogs that make excellent therapy dogs. Many organizations that use therapy dogs have volunteer ownersand dogs come to the hospital or care facility and work in conjunction with the health care professionals and trained therapists on staff.
I know Dutch was a big deal to all the nurses and staff at Sunnybrook and when they saw her everyone knew she meant business. It’s as if the environment changed drastically when she entered the ward. Her confidence not only motivated me but also the staff at the hospital and the combination was both therapeutic and uplifting. One of the nurses even gave her the nick name Dutch, it just happened to stick.
Dutch was able to touch the hearts of those with whom she came in contact without uttering a single word. Her mission while in the hospital was simple: to improve the quality of my life and provide me with companionship. As she continues to live out her new mission and I will continue to update and track our progress together. Each day is a new journey as I re-learn basic skills I once took for granted. Stay tuned for more info on Therapy Dogs and My personal Journey with Dutch.
To be continued…