A grief therapy dog(also known as an emotional support dog, companion dog, or comfort dog is a form of animal-assisted therapy. Dogs have been proven to be able to assist people in overcoming grief, which has led to a recent rise in the use of therapy dogs; although animal-assisted therapy theory has been around sinceWorld War II.
Grief therapy dogs can be found in locations such as funeral homes, hospitals, nursing homes, schools, and hospices, and may provide support in situations such as funeral services, counseling sessions, and disaster relief. Popular breeds used as therapy dogs include the Portuguese Water Dog,Bernese Mountain Dog,St. Bernard, and Golden Retriever.
Brian Hare, director of Duke University Canine Cognition Center, says the human-canine bond goes back thousands of years. Dogs have been drawn to people since humans began to exist in settlements. Dogs are the only species that does not show fear of strangers. Hare says that dogs are "actually xenophilic-they love strangers!"
Although a dog does not think according to language, people often intuit that dogs are compassionate and communicative. This builds a feeling of intimacy, leading the person to feel safe and understood. This can benefit the grieving human, who may be apprehensive about talking with another person for the fear of being hurt or lied to. Pets are an addition to therapy because they allow people to feel safe and accepted.
A large number of studies show that animals can offer relief and serenity to a wide age range of vulnerable people with various different emotional issues. Ross DeJohn Jr. of DeJohn Funeral Homes in Ohio says Magic, a Portuguese water dog, "Makes people smile even when they don't want to." (qtd. in Sinatra-Ayers).Amy Sather, Rincon Valley assistant principal, brings her 2-year-old Golden Retriever to the school to assist in the therapy of the children. Sather says, "I've got kids whose parents are going through a divorce and they are so depressed by it. I've had children literally hug and cry into his fur." (qtd. in Warren).
Principal Brad Cosorelli claims the students will flock to the dog in time of distress instead of the counselor. Children were found during a study to find their pet (in most cases dogs) a bigger comfort in sharing secrets or scary situations than they found the adults in the family to be. In some cases, life experience has led people to believe they will be hurt by the people closest to them; animals can provide non-judgmental and unrestricted emotional support. This is true for both children and adults.
In a survey done by the American Animal Hospital Association, many of those who responded specified that they were emotionally dependent on their pet. Therapists believe they can utilize clients' attachment to animals for therapeutic reasons (Urichuk). The presence of a dog in a therapy session has indicated improvements in a patient's outlook, as well as their willingness to share on a deeper level. The petting of an animal can also put a patient at ease, whereas a therapist must maintain a professional state and thus is unable to provide physical support. This creates a unique bridge for patient-therapist communication (Urichuk).
In contrast to service dogs who assist disabled people with physical tasks, comfort dogs are not trained in skilled tasks, but serve as constant companions with a keen sense for someone feeling down. They can provide a way for people who are distressed to find sanctuary.