Viewpoint: Pets are humanizing

  • Gus Dreher and his service dog Millie. PHOTO BY TONYA DREHER

Thursday, August 03, 2017 10:13AM

Pets are humanizing. They remind us we have an obligation and responsibility to preserve and nurture and care for all life.” — James Cromwell

The vast number of programs within which canines play a very important role fulfilling human needs and wants, go far beyond the partnership initially developed thousands of years ago. Why are we so entranced by dogs? For many of us, it is because our dogs, should we allow them to do so, not only teach us much about life, love and becoming better human beings, but have also proven time and again their willingness to do for us so much more than any other species humans have ever domesticated. Scientific research, along with a multitude of anecdotal evidence, provide data which consistently proves time and again that dogs can make our lives better. And, it is because of this ever evolving and deep bond between our two species, and the many roles dogs play in our lives, that dogs have earned the well-deserved title of “Man’s best friend.”

We humans have bred, raised and trained our dogs to be workmates, sporting dogs, and show dogs. We have Search and Rescue dogs, Alert dogs, Comfort and/or Service dogs, Therapy dogs, and Emotional Support dogs. We have purebreds, mixed breeds, and designer breeds. We have K9s in our military and police departments — and we have all read, seen and heard of canines who have given their lives in the line of duty to save their humans. We know how invaluable Search and Rescue dogs can be — and more recently we have come to realize how Alert dogs can literally be the difference between life and death.

We also know how important are the skills and tasks which service dogs perform — and how as a result, their human partners are better able to live fuller, richer and more independent lives than would be possible without them. And for those under the age of 16 who cannot as yet be certified as a handler of a service dog, but will eventually need the skill sets a Service dog provides due to a progressively debilitating disease, the bond and comfort provided in the interim by these remarkable dogs are priceless. For so many who are dealing with these serious medical issues, sleep patterns and deteriorating mobility create an array of emotional hurdles which most of us can’t even imagine. A service dog is there 24/7 not only to close drawers, open doors, pick things up from the floor, etc. — but also to sleep by its human’s side and just to simply be there to provide the companionship we as social beings require, when others are doing what its person cannot.

The comfort which Therapy dogs provide to those in the workplace, hospitals, nursing homes, hospice centers, schools, libraries, colleges and universities are many. We have seen news stories showing specially trained therapy dogs helping both the first responders and the survivors cope in the aftermath of either man-made or natural disasters. We have learned that reading to a therapy dog in a school or library can decrease a child’s anxiety about reading aloud — while also increasing a student’s confidence and performance when utilized in conjunction with more traditional or formal academic programs. A therapy dog can be the carrot needed to encourage reluctant learners for whom other programs have failed. Therapy dogs can also become a victim’s best advocate by its mere presence when testifying in court, and/or by helping returning veterans transition into civilian life when suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Emotional Support dogs not only help humans cope with life’s stressors, but also improve their quality of life and sense of well-being. These dogs provide the gift of affection and companionship on an everyday basis to those suffering from physical, emotional and psychological issues when others in their lives aren’t able to. They improve their peoples’ lives tremendously by being there 24/7 when these individuals are feeling anxious or alone- and with a doctor’s note, these well-behaved and sweet dogs may be allowed on flights and in hotel rooms, as well as in hospitals to provide the support needed to reduce anxiety for those who are away from home to receive medical treatment. And for those who are feeling isolated and left out of mainstream society, and because these dogs provide unconditional love, companionship and are non-judgmental, they may possibly be the difference between their people remaining isolated, and/or being able to take those frightening first steps to health, hope and a sense of well-being.

Innovative training and rehabilitation programs in prisons have been developed to utilize dogs rescued from shelters, which are then trained by selected inmates prior to being placed, in order to increase the dog’s chance of remaining in its “forever home” forever- whether it be as a family pet, Emotional Support dog for veterans with PTSD as they transition back into civilian life, or as a service dog for those who otherwise might not be able to wait for and/or afford one. Programs like this provide not only a second chance for shelter dogs, but also for the inmates by potentially reducing the rate of recidivism for both.

In this sometimes stressful world within which we live, those of us lucky enough to have dogs in our lives, have personally experienced the extremely subtle, and many times unconscious, but very real calming effect and joy our best buddies provide when simply looking into their soft eyes or through a simple touch. For us, there is no doubt that our dogs do indeed make our lives richer and fuller.

As a result of this amazing bond between humans and canines which has continued to develop incrementally over thousands of years, it is not surprising the increasing number of ways dogs continue to play an ever expanding role in our lives. But despite these ever expanding roles, most dogs are still primarily the loving and loyal family pets, who for many have truly become members of our family- and with whom we simply enjoy spending our time. All one has to do to learn from these playful pups is to pay attention, and much like young children our dogs can teach us to live in the present, so that we might better enjoy, pay attention to, and appreciate those amazing moments and simple pleasures we as adults may too often miss if it were not for “Man’s Best Friend”. The first photo is of Gus Dreher and his service dog Millie taken by his Mom, Tonya Dreher both of Peterborough. And the second is of our therapy dog Bleu with his “official” ID badge granted to him by Rivier University in recognition of all the his visits during mid-terms, finals, Fresh Check Day, and Open Houses at both the Learning Commons, the library, and in the Quad.

Deb McGrath