How Therapy Dogs Are Changing Lives For The Better

If dog is man’s best friend, then a therapy dog can be man’s lifeline. These smart and talented pups use their skills to help everyone from the physically disabled to the mentally ill. We’re going to share some touching stories about therapy animals that prove what important roles dogs can play in human life.

Service Dogs Vs. Therapy Dogs


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Therapy dogs are not the same thing as service dogs, guide dogs, or signal dogs. Service dogs shouldn’t be touched while they’re working because it can prevent them from performing an essential task – and that task is usually a whole lot more life or death than easing anxiety and PTSD symptoms. On the other hand, therapy dogs are frequently referred to as emotional support dogs. This means that snuggles are usually very welcome.

Click through to read some ultra-touching stories about therapy dogs. Make sure you have some tissues nearby!

How Can A Therapy Dog Help?

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Most service dogs are linked up with disabled handlers who rely on them in public places like restaurants and grocery stores. Though therapy dogs receive training and undoubtedly help their owners, they usually provide psychological or physiological therapy instead of guiding the blind, fetching medicine, or raising the alarm in case of an emergency.

Therapy dogs have naturally calm demeanors and can ease emotional episodes related to Post Traumatic Stress (they can help curb intense flashbacks), depression, and anxiety. Therapy dogs can also help children with autism and have been proven to help autistic children learn social skills, communication, and coordination. They’re frequently brought into to hospitals and senior homes to raise spirits because there’s nothing like a cute pup to cheer you up!

Therapy Dog Training

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Even the most well-mannered puppies need training to become certified therapy dogs, but not all canines are suited for the job. Dogs must be friendly, confident, and comfortable in crowds. They can’t jump up on people and must be able to ignore food and toys. They’ve also got to enjoy being touched by humans (being hugged and pet is a huge part of therapy) and feel comfortable around medical equipment (therapy pups are frequently used to bring comfort to those in hospitals and nursing homes).

Caleb’s Cuddly Colonel


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As a young boy, Caleb was in a tragic, head-on car crash. As a result, he suffered from a traumatic brain injury (TBI), a broken femur, knee, and arm. Because of the TBI, millions of Caleb’s brain cells were killed upon impact and his family feared that he wouldn’t make it out of the ICU alive. Caleb’s progress was slow and discouraging, leading his parents to believe he might never actually recover.

That all changed when Caleb was introduced to a cuddly golden retriever named Colonel. The minute Caleb saw the therapy pup, he was more alert and aware. His parents described the moment as a turning point in his recovery.

Caleb’s First Meeting

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Caleb may not have been out of the woods with his brain injury, but Colonel has helped speed up the healing process. Caleb played fetch with the pooch (though his parents needed to lift his arm and throw the ball for him because he didn’t have full control). Caleb was slowly beginning to regain control of his motor skills. His father claimed that when he reached out to pet the pup for the first time, it was the most responsive he had ever been.

“Every time he would see Colonel, he was more alert and there was a little step in his awareness and he would forget what was normal, and he would usually do just a little bit more than what he had already been doing,” said his mother.

A Month After Meeting

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By the time Caleb met Colonel a month later, his condition dramatically improved. He was able to take a break from his wheelchair and walk the puppy. He was even smiling, laughing and speaking again.

“It was about a month after that first visit when we got to really play with Colonel again,” said Caleb’s dad. “And by that time, Caleb had become much more aware.” A month after first meeting Colonel, Caleb was able to play fetch without assistance. With Caleb focused more on play than therapy, he was able to crawl, walk, and function like a normal boy. It’s still a long road, but Caleb is that much closer to healing thanks to his furry friend.

Spartacus Eased A Sandy Hook Victim’s Pain


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The tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary school killed 27 people, many of which were young children. Those who survived were left traumatized, but that’s where Spartacus the Akita stepped in to help.

Spartacus can never truly erase the pain of surviving a school shooting, but he did help Samantha Kuruc, who was terrified to leave the house after the events of that tragic day. Kuruc’s mother eventually convinced Samantha to leave her home for the first time and the pair went to Reid Intermediate School where they had counselors and therapy dogs for the children affected. That’s where Samantha met her new best friend.

Samantha Finally Opened Up


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The minute Samantha met Spartacus, it was love at first. It was the first time she was willing to talk to an adult about what had happened. After spending two-and-a-half hours with Samantha, Spartacus was asked to go help some other children. Samantha agreed to share the love, but the dog didn’t want to leave. Eventually, though, Samantha had to go home and Spartacus couldn’t go with her because he had a job to do – help as many children as possible.

Spartacus was later reunited with Samantha at a marathon. She hadn’t seen him in a couple of months and Samantha’s mother admits she cried because it was “so special seeing them together again.”

Spartacus Found His Talents By Helping Autistic Children


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Spartacus was born to be a therapy dog. It was a natural gift that his owner, Brad Cole, discovered when the pup was just nine months old. It all began when an autistic child ran up to Spartacus, slid next to the puppy and tried to hang out.

“I’ve always known through years of the connection with dogs and autism and bringing out strong, positive behavior. It made me think about Spartacus becoming a therapy dog,” he said. Once Spartacus was evaluated, Cole realized he was the only dog out of 13 pups that passed the test. “God was telling me something,” Cole added.

The Shelter Dog That Beat The Odds


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Dianne DaLee, president of Boxer Rescue, lost her beloved dog Simba in 2013. Without Simba, there was a noticeable absence in her house even though she was already caring for a four-year-old pup named Pixie. A month after Simba’s death he met a severely injured pup who was looking for a foster home. It felt too soon to take in another dog, but Kayla was special.

DaLee temporarily took in Kayla, whose injury was so severe that her leg had to be amputated. Despite this unfortunate reality, Kayla posessed an unyielding patience. She stood quietly next to children and saved running around and getting rowdy for the dog park. She was a certified Good Girl.

Kayla Became A Volunteer


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DaLee knew that Kayla had a special demeanor that really could help others. After all, Kayla helped fill the hole in her heart left by Simba’s passing. DaLee called up a nursing home and asked if they’d like to have her three-legged, patient pup come in for a visit. After DaLee filled out the volunteer paperwork, Kayla became an instant hit.

DaLee trained Kayla to be a therapy dog because she was familiar with the process and had taken Simba and Pixie through two CGC training classes. This included acclimating Kayla to medical equipment like wheelchairs, crutches, and motorized scooters – but it took an army. Neighborhood children helped get Kayla familiar by riding bikes and scooters past the pup. Today, Kayla provides comfort to seniors – many of whom had to give up their dogs when they moved into a nursing home.

Ansley Helps Ava Move Again


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Ansley is arguably the cutest staffer at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. She regularly helps patients in the rehab unit and is so successful because they don’t realize they’re doing hard work if they’re engaging in play. One of Ansley’s patients was Nava McClelland, a young girl who had spinal decompression surgery that didn’t go as planned. After the surgery, Ava could only move her fingers, but two weeks after spending time with Ansley, she was moving her hands and her arms.

“I’ve seen patients that respond to Ansley before they respond to anyone else,” said Jenny Lundine, a speech-language pathologist at Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. “[They’re] just waking up from a coma and will reach out to pet Ansely before they follow any directions from a therapist or physician.”

Hailey Only Responds To Ansley’s Treatment


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Hailey Finch is a toddler who was learning to walk again after epilepsy surgery left her unable to move. Before meeting Ansley, she’d regularly have fits that would set her progress back. But with Ansley, she zips around in her walker all over the hospital hallways.

“After surgery, she couldn’t do anything but just lay there, and in four to six weeks, she’s already walking with a walker with the help of Ansley the dog. It’s been great,” said Hailey’s father Aaron Fitch.

Thanks to Ansley’s help, Hailey was released from the hospital in a too-cute ceremony that involved the dog (and some carrots and apple treats).

Meet The German Shepherd Helping Our Troops


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Returning from the throes of war is never easy, and many veterans suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). After three deployments to Iraq and three to Afghanistan, Sgt. Dennis Swols found himself following a similar to path to other veterans. He was agitated, prone to anger and unable to talk about what he saw during his time at war, but things changed when he met Lexy.

Lexy is an adorable five-year-old German shepherd who’s made helping veterans her life’s mission. Lexy first met Swols at Robinson Health Clinic in Fort Bragg and instantly felt his mood lighten while he was petting the furry pup.

Lexy Helped Swols Open Up


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PTSD makes it difficult for veterans to talk about their time on the battlefield, and Swols was hardly alone in feeling that way. After participating in the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, the soldier who’s part of the 82 Airborne’s 4th Brigade Combat Team has helped him open up in therapy. She’s a conversation starter and eases his nerves.

“I have a hard time talking to people about my deployments and everything,” he told CBS News. “But having her here, I just pet Lexy. Or I’m just sitting here and we won’t talk about deployments, we’ll just (talk) about the dog. … My day is better every time I come in.”

Lexy Was Originally A Pretty Poor Guard Dog

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There’s no point in having a guard dog who wants to cuddle everyone – but that’s exactly what Lexy was. The pup didn’t start as a therapy dog. Maj. Christine Rumayor, an 82nd Airborne psychiatrist, originally wanted Lexy to be a guard dog. When she realized the pup was prone to calm cuddles, she decided to train the pooch.

Lexy became a therapy dog after two and a half years of training. She’s now a lieutenant colonel and certified as Fort Bragg’s only therapy dog. It just goes to show that even puppies have a place in our military.

Xander May Be Blind, But He’s Also Cuddly

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Image Credit: Meet “Xander” / Facebook

Xander isn’t like other dogs. He had both his eyes removed as a pup and has breathing problems after a head injury – but he’s so darn cute, anyway. In 2013, Xander was brought to the Klamath Animal Shelter (which he describes on his website as a “confusing” and “scary” experience). How could his owners forget him?

After being abandoned by the people who he thought loved him, he met Rodney and Marcie. The couple adopted Xander and he quickly passed his American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen Test and became a certified therapy dog.

Xander Is On A Mission To End Violence


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Xander studied at the Dog School at Double C and passed his therapy dog test with flying colors. He was so great as a therapy dog that when schools took children to the school to learn about dog safety, Xander was the pooch they showed off.

After graduation, Xander went on a mission to stop violence. But since no small dog can really put an end to it all together, he helps by comforting young victims. His owners regularly bring him to safe houses for abused kids where he provides comfort and playtime. Xander also works in nursing homes and hospitals. Helping people who are suffering is truly his passion.

Barney Is One Big Therapy Pup


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Every morning, Barney wakes up around 8 a.m. to start a long day of helping others. He gets a giant bowl of food, makes a stop at Pet Smart for some luxurious grooming, and heads on over to Phoenix Children’s Hospital.

Barney is part of the Paws Can Heal assisted therapy program and uses his powers of pudge (he’s pretty darn chubby) to cheer up patients stuck indoors and dealing with painful recoveries. Many of Barney’s patients are so young they can barely form full sentences, but just seeing Barney makes them smile no matter how sick they are.

Spirit Brought Some Spirit To a Bronx Hospital


Image Credit: Spirit The Therapy Dog / Facebook

Spirit, a mixed-breed puppy, had a difficult life before he got rescued. He was abused before meeting his new owner Linda Koebner at a Louisiana pound. Koebner brought him home to New York and got him certified as a therapy dog. She started bringing him to the Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx where he became one of the hospital’s most beloved fixtures.

Spirit is famous at the Montefiore Medical Center. He greets nervous patients and loves posing for snapshots. He even crawls into their hospital beds for some cuddles. Most of the patients Spirit visits have terminal illnesses or are in extreme pain and he provides love and comfort they wouldn’t otherwise get. What a good boy!