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Something to bark about

Pet therapy dogs bring joy, comfort to many settings

Created date

September 28th, 2015
Erickson Living resident
Erickson Living resident

Adele Irving has owned five Tibetan terriers. The medium-sized, shaggy sheep dogs’ most telling feature is a dramatic, long double coat. But what makes them so loveable is their playful, yet laid-back and calming personality. Adele’s fifth terrier, Kera, is so loveable that Adele has trained her as a pet therapy dog. 

Kera and Adele visit children and adults with various afflictions, such as students with developmental disabilities at Matheny School, in Newton, N.J. Children can pet the therapy dogs during a break from class. 

“I think some children have been affected greatly [by pet therapy],” says Adele. 

Is health care going to the dogs? 

The broad term “pet therapy” includes animal-assisted therapy and animal-assisted activities.

In animal-assisted therapy, doctors or therapists use dogs or other animals to help people recover from or better cope with health problems, like cancer, heart disease, or mental disorders. 

Animal-assisted activities are more general in purpose, such as providing comfort and enjoyment for children or adults with special needs. 

Pet therapy’s popularity is growing among the medical community. Mayo Clinic has its own Caring Canines program. More than a dozen certified therapy dogs visit various hospital departments regularly and make special visits upon request. 

According to Mayo Clinic, animal-assisted therapy can significantly reduce pain, anxiety, depression, and fatigue in people with a range of health problems, including cancer patients, long-term care patients, children undergoing dental procedures, and veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Of their visits to the VA hospital, Adele says, “It’s interesting the reactions you get—some men don’t want to see a dog, and others miss their dog.”

Kera’s there if they need her, though. “She’s very laid-back,” Adele says.

Pet therapy is also used at schools and universities to help students deal with anxiety and stress. For example, Kera and Adele participate in a library program for children who have trouble reading aloud. “The children read to the dogs so there’s no peer pressure,” Adele says.

Pawing around

Adele and Kera live in an older ranch house in Berkeley Heights. After dealing with continuing home maintenance problems, Adele joined the priority list at

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