Raising Spirits, One Wag at a Time

Therapy dogs bring joy and comfort to people who need it most.

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Dax, a tri-colored Australian Shepherd, carefully placed a front paw on each side of Harry’s* lap and sniffed his face. Harry bent his head over the dog and began to cry. A big man with still-callused hands – evidence of a lifetime of hard work – Harry pulled the dog to him and released his pent-up emotions in heavy sobs. The rest of the therapy dogs, their owners and the Alzheimer facility’s caregivers froze, unwilling to interrupt this special moment. Dax gently swiped her tongue over Harry’s face, licking away his tears. After a few moments, Harry let go of the dog, wiped his remaining tears away and told those watching, “I had something in my eyes.”

Like many people with Alzheimer’s disease, Harry, a resident of Pacific Place in Oceanside, Calif., goes through periods when his emotions overwhelm him, but those emotions can find an outlet when Dax and the other therapy dogs come to visit.

Therapy-dog basics
Therapy dogs can serve many purposes. Some dogs participate in reading programs at schools and libraries where the dog will rest quietly next to a child who is reading aloud. The non-judgmental dog will not correct pronunciation or other mistakes, but instead will simply be a warm, affectionate audience. Other therapy dogs visit daycare centers and schools as a part of dog-bite prevention and education programs, where kids can learn how to approach dogs and what to do if they are confronted by a strange, unleashed dog.

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