Wednesday, February 23, 2011

What Mer and I have been up to instead of blogging

Oh, faithful friends, who still check in on my blog, I owe you an apology.
Life got out of hand busy all of a sudden.
One of the reasons is America being fully certified as a therapy dog. She has a full schedule, visiting hospitals and classrooms, sometimes up to five visits a week.
I'm delighted that she's truly become a working dog, even if it was through a different path than CCI.
I wish I could include pics of her in her fancy vest, but my camera bit the dust.
I'll replace it soon, but in the meantime, just imagine her sweet self in a lovely red cape.

Here's an article on the value of therapy dogs, both for the recipients and the owners (that would be me!) from yesterday's UT:

Pet therapy provides benefits for everyone

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 22, 2011 AT 12:01 A.M.

The story that older adults benefit from pet therapy is misguided. EVERYONE benefits from pet therapy. Who ever thought that a four-legged bundle of soft fur or a smiling dolphin could make you feel better and actually healthier?

Pet therapy, also known as animal assisted therapy, is a broad technique involving any interaction that patients have with animals to make them feel better. In 1859, Florence Nightingale wrote that a small pet “is often an excellent companion for the sick, for long chronic cases especially.” Apart from the possibility of small pets causing falls for frail older adults, pets provide multiple benefits to their companions. It not only feels good to be around pets, but it makes you healthier. Emerging studies show that pet therapy translates to positive clinical outcomes.

Even just owning a pet has been found to be beneficial. Dog ownership is associated with lower heart attack risks and increased survival one year after a heart attack. Older pet owners walk significantly farther when they walked with a dog, which might contribute to their making fewer visits to the doctor.

And it is not just having a companion—talking to a pet rather than a person was associated with lower heart rate. Even in nursing homes, the presence of a dog is associated with reduced need for medication, improved physical functioning, and improved vital signs—even when patients are suffering from dementia. The list of benefits includes reductions in loneliness, agitated behaviors, and depression, and increases in engagement, well-being, nutritional intake, and social interactions.

It sounds like a panacea. But what is the reason for these health-boosting outcomes?

One line of aging research that shows great promise investigates how pet therapy generates hormones that affect mood. The University of Missouri-Columbia, currently conducting research in this arena, suggests that hormonal changes that naturally occur when humans and dogs interact could help people cope with depression and certain stress-related disorders. Preliminary results show that a few minutes of stroking a pet dog prompts a release of a number of these “feel good” hormones in humans, including serotonin, prolactin and oxytocin. In addition, decreased levels of the primary stress hormone cortisol, the adrenal chemical responsible for regulating appetite and cravings for carbohydrates, occurs.

If you already have a pet, one of the hidden added benefits is that you can share them and help others. This is not only beneficial to patients but also to the volunteer on a number of fronts. Older adults can volunteer by going to nursing homes, hospice, clinics or schools and providing pet therapy with their pet.

Before heading out the door with your little puppy you need to make sure that you are certified. The San Diego Humane Society and SPCA has been bringing the joys of animals to people for more than 30 years through its Pet-Assisted Therapy Program. For more information contact them at (619) 299-7012, ext. 2271, or Paw’sitive Pals is another well-established program in San Diego, and can be contacted at More information about the Pet Therapy Program at San Diego Hospice can be accessed at

By training your dog to become a service dog you not only become better engaged with your pet and the community, you will become part of the therapy for frail older adults.

Mario Garrett, Ph.D., is a professor of gerontology at San Diego State University and can be reached at

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