Nurturing creativity with art, animals, and science fiction

Category: Therapy Animals Page 1 of 2

This photo shows crisis dog Tikva, a Keeshond, with responders at Ground Zero.

Service dogs for first responders

In light of Wednesday’s post, here’s a video about service dogs for first responders. 

Thank goodness, leadership in some areas has begun to cut through the “tough-guy” culture in many agencies. It’s high time we recognize the huge impact of stress on first responders. When more than twice as many police officers die by suicide than in the line of duty, something is seriously wrong!

Anyone who’s followed this blog for a while knows I’ve posted about service dogs many times before. I’ve featured dogs who help calm child witnesses in courtrooms, and others who aid deaf people, or help with mobility.

Some comfort hospice patients, or support recovery from PTSD. Especially as they’ve become more widely used to treat PTSD in military veterans, it’s logical to expand the idea to include service dogs for first responders.

Dogs’ roles have evolved

This kind of caregiving role for our canine friends isn’t a universal centuries-old tradition. Over the millennia they’ve been our co-hunters, herding dogs, and guard dogs. But in isolated instances people have used animals as helps in therapy or guides throughout history

L-R in a wonderful composite photo created by Tori Holmes for Bark-Post: A mural from Herculaneum shows an ancient Roman dog used to guide a bind person.  Morris Frank and his guide dog Buddy walk down a city street (she is popularly considered to be the first guide dog in the US). The third photo portrays a contemporary guide dog with her person.
L-R in a wonderful composite photo created by Tori Holmes for Bark-Post: A mural from Herculaneum shows an ancient Roman dog used to guide a bind person.  Morris Frank and his guide dog Buddy walk down a city street (she is popularly considered to be the first guide dog in the US). The third photo portrays a contemporary guide dog with her person.

Our contemporary understanding of what a service dog can do began in Germany after World War I. Former ambulance dogs found new roles as guide dogs for blinded veterans. The idea spread to the United States, where trainers established several schools.

Developing the concept

From there, a whole new chapter in the relationship between dogs and humans has unfolded. Service dogs now help people deal with all kinds of medical and mental health issues

But the first time I became aware of therapy dogs helping first responders cope was through stories about therapy dogs at the site of the 9/11 wreckage

This photo shows crisis dog Tikva, a Keeshond, with responders at Ground Zero.
Crisis dog Tikva, a Keeshond, helped responders cope at Ground Zero. (Photo courtesy of New York Daily News)

Individual agencies have begun bringing in therapy dogs occasionally. In the 911 Call Center for Sheboygan County, WI, a team of therapy dogs visits on a regular schedule. 

Back in Fairfax County, home of the police in our opening video, they also have a Goldendoodle therapy dog named Wally in Fire Station 32. Therapy dogs have been brought in to help firefighters battling wildfires in Californina (I hope in Australia, too!).

I think this trend of providing service dogs for first responders is positive. What do you think? Should more agencies should explore it as a way to offer our first responders some relief?

IMAGE CREDITS: Many thanks to VOA for the video about therapy dogs in the Fairfax VA Police Department. I deeply appreciate the three-photo composite of guide dogs through the centuries from Tori Holmes and Bark-Post. Finally, I want to thank the New York Daily News for the photo of Tikva the Keeshond, and the accompanying article about therapy dogs at Ground Zero.

Three dogs hug their humans.

Could it be love?

Does your dog love you? Or are you just projecting? Scientists try very hard to avoid anthropomorphizing their animal study subjects. Emotions are difficult to measure. But now we’re finally getting closer to answering the question, “could it be love?”

This is the third and final (for now) post in a series about dog cognition. In case you missed them, click: “Dogs: verbal virtuosos?” and “How much does your dog understand?” I’ve also previously written about working dogs on this blog–a post that touched on dog cognition, but didn’t go into as much depth.

This series started when I wrote a guest post on dog cognition for Booker T’s Farm,  a blog devoted to books and dogs (a great combo!) Their format, however, didn’t include the hyperlinks to sources that I’d suggested. (Note: Booker T’s Farm also later posted a very nice review of What’s Bred in the Bone).

Because science doesn’t stand still, there’s also some updated information to add. That (and the chance to share links to sources) is why I decided to expand on my August post with this series.

Anthropomorphism

Three anthropomorphic cartoon dogs: Huckleberry Hound, Snoopy, and Scooby-Doo.
Huckleberry HoundSnoopy, and Scooby-Doo each created a humorous satire on certain human characteristics, but anthropomorphism gets in the way of scientists studying real dogs. (Images via Wikipedia)

When humans attribute human characteristics or emotions to non-human entities (weather conditions, animals, plants, gods or other things), they are anthropomorphizing. It’s an impulse as old as human “behavioral modernity.” In fact, one of our oldest artworks is anthropomorphic.

The so-called “Lion-Man of the Hohlenstein-Stadel,” also called Löwenmensch figurine, is an ivory sculpture about a foot tall, that was found in Hohlenstein-Stadel cave in Germany. It’s the oldest example of what everyone agrees is figurative art,  carbon-dated between 40,000 and 35,000 years old. You might recall dogs have probably been hanging out with humans somewhere in the neighborhood of 32,000 years.

So, yeah. We have an apparently-innate tendency to anthopomorphize all kinds of things (just for fun, run an image search with the keywords “faces on inanimate objects”). And while Huckleberry HoundSnoopyScooby-Doo, and dozens of other anthropomorphic dogs might be fun ways to poke humor at certain types of human characteristics, but they do nothing to help scientists understand real dogs.

The right chemistry

Three dogs give their humans some very convincing hugs.
A Golden Retriever who passes out hugs in New York City, a demonstrative rescued pit bull, and a Bernese Mountain Dog puppy who leans on his human and pulls him closer (Photos: varied sources/First for Women).

The human tendency to anthropomorphize may be hard to control for, but blood chemistry is entirely another matter, when we ask, “could it be love?”

Several studies have shown that oxytocin levels (the so-called “love hormone”) rise in both dogs and humans during interactions. When the human smiles, they look at each other, and when they snuggle, or when dogs are caressed, both release more oxytocin. Some researchers believe this mutual reaction is key to dog domestication.

In humans and other animals oxytocin is “correlated with the preferences of individuals to associate with members of their own group.” Thus, it’s not surprising that it’s been found to be important in bonding between mates and mothers and their infants, as well as humans and companion animals.

Could it be love? Check the MRIs

Dogs trained to hold still for an MRI are showing us more and more about how many similarities there are between their brains and ours.
At left, parallel brain structures in human and dog brains activated in response to stimuli (in this case words, but in other studies it’s been smells) at Hungary’s Eötvös Loránd University. (image: Andics et al./Current Biology) Center: Border Collies and Golden Retrievers pose with the MRI in the Hungarian lab. (Photo: Borbala Ferenczy) At right, fMRI scans from Emory University show brain activity associated with decision-making. Similar studies using fMRI have demonstrated emotional reactions that parallel those of humans. (Photo: Berns et al./SSRN).

Oxytocin isn’t the only scientific proof that it could, indeed, be loveStudies of dogs in MRI scanners show the brain structure (caudate nucleus) associated with anticipation and positive feelings lights up in dogs when they smell the odor of a familiar person.

Other MRI-scan brain studies reconfirm the dogs’ verbal recognition skills, and offer the beginnings of understanding how dogs make decisions.

Other indications

And then there’s body language. How can you mistake the message of the facial expressions,  the wriggling body, the wagging tail? How can you mistake the hugs? 

Could it be love? Watch this compilation of dogs greeting their returning soldiers home from deployment, then decide. What do you think?

https://youtu.be/RKBcs9tNWg8

Dog owners know: dogs “get” us, in a way few other animals do. After 32,000 years, even the scientists are beginning to agree.

IMAGE CREDITS: The cover art for What’s Bred in the Bone is © 2019 by Jody A. Lee. Many thanks to Wikipedia for this images of Huckleberry HoundSnoopyand Scooby-Doo. Thanks and hugs to First For Women and their adorable photo feature, “12 Adorable Pics of Dogs Hugging their Humans for Valentine’s Day,” the source of the “Dog Hugs” composite. For the “Dog Brain Scans” composite, I wish to thank Wired MagazineAttila Andics and Current Biology, photographer Borbala Ferenczy, and to Wired MagazineGregory Berns, and SSRN. Finally, many thanks to YouTube and FunnyPlox, for the video of dogs greeting their homecoming soldiers.

Fernie the labrador retriever and his person demonstrate he's a verbal virtuoso who can read and obey commands.

Dogs: verbal virtuosos?

Could our dogs be verbal virtuosos? Perhaps more than we may think!

This is the second post in a series about dog cognition. In case you missed the first one, click: “How much does your dog understand?” I’ve also written about working dogs on this blog. That post touched on dog cognition, but didn’t go into as much depth.

This series started when I wrote a guest post on dog cognition for Booker T’s Farm,  a blog devoted to books and dogs (a great combo!). Their format, however, didn’t include the hyperlinks to sources that I’d suggested. (Note: Booker T’s Farm also posted a very nice review of What’s Bred in the Bone).

Science doesn’t stand still, so there’s updated information to add. That (and the chance to share links to sources) is why I decided to expand on my August post with this series.

If only dogs could talk!

I am certainly not the only person who’s ever wished her dog could talk. They usually manage to express themselves clearly enough to tell us when they’re hungry or want to go out, but I sometimes would swear they’re just as frustrated as we are.

We need a for-real “Dr. Dolittle interface” of some sort! And it’s possible we may be getting closer to one, but more on that in a bit.

Dogs can’t (quite) speak our languages, but there’s growing scientific agreement that they understand what our words mean. We also now know that understanding is aided by the tone of our voice.

And it’s long been clear they can and do respond to our wishes, cued by words (sounds) we’ve taught them. (Scientists haven’t, as far as I know, done studies on “selective hearing” in dogs who choose not to respond. But perhaps that’s an indicator of intelligence, too).

All of these capabilities, plus dogs’ eagerness to interact with humans, place them on the road to becoming verbal virtuosos.

The (so far) unparalleled Chaser

Probably the most famous canine verbal virtuoso was Chaser, a border collie who belonged to a psychology professor named John Pilley.  Pilley and Chaser were able to demonstrate that she had a vocabulary of 1,022 different nouns (the names of toys), and that she could comprehend (by reacting appropriately to) sentences containing a prepositional object, a verb, and a direct object.

Pilley memorably showed her talents to the world on TV. There’s an episode of 60 Minutes in which she starred. It first aired in 2014, but it’s still available onlinePilley and Chaser also demonstrated her smarts to Neil DeGrasse Tyson on an episode of NOVA on PBS.

Yes, but could she also read?

Chaser understood more than 1,000 nouns and could correctly follow verbal commands using different verbs and objects, but I haven’t found any evidence online that she could respond to written symbols. That doesn’t mean, however that a dog can’t do that.

While it’s true that dogs can’t read the way humans can, it is possible to teach them to recognize individual written words (visual symbols) and respond to them as if they were spoken commands.

Several different dogs have been taught to do this, as an inspiration for elementary students just beginning to read. The largest “written vocabulary” I found online was four words, demonstrated by a Labrador Retriever in the UK, named Fernie.

Fernie the "reading dog" and his human a primary school headmaster named Nik Gardner, demonstrate two of the commands Fernie can read.
“Reading Dog” Fernie is a different kind of verbal virtuoso. He and his human, Winford Primary School Headmaster Nik Gardner, demonstrate two of the written commands Gardner has taught Fernie. (Photo by SWNS / David Hedges, via the Telegraph UK).

Mini-Aussie Mia and chocolate lab Fernie are both employed as inspirations for young human readers. They’re going “one better” on the many school-certified dogs around the world who help children improve their reading skills (and sometimes get helped in return).

Meet Stella, the world’s most recent dog star

Just this month, a new canine verbal virtuoso came onto my radar. Stella, a Catahoula / Blue Heeler mix, is the dog of speech pathologist Christina Hunger.

She wanted to teach her dog to communicate using sounds–and her professional background gave her the technology to try it. As News 18 described it, “Christina designed a Voice Output Communication Aid on cardboard. The device is normally used to help low or nonverbal people to communicate.”

Christina has documented Stella using two or more words in sequence, and notes her technique is improving all the time. In Christina’s latest post, Stella’s vocabulary had grown to 22 word-buttons, but a more recent video from Welfare of Dogs documents 29 words.

Stella and Christina’s use of adaptive technology brings other animal word-use experiments to mind. You may remember Koko the gorilla, who used American Sign Language and whose vocabulary surpassed that of the amazing Chaser.

There also was an experiment with teaching orangutans to use iPads for communicating information such as what they wanted for dinner. The program, from Orangutan Outreach, is called “Apps for Apes.” It was designed to draw attention to them, more than it was a serious effort to advance the science of communication with the animals. I reported on it in 2013 when the Kansas City Zoo adopted the program, but I haven’t been able to find information more recent than 2015.

We’re still not quite ready to swear in a K9 officer to testify . . . or are we?

The decision to give my fictional XK9s a vocalizer has its roots in both wish-fulfillment and the potential I see in contemporary adaptive and communication technology. But another inspiration was an overheard comment from a police commander that for well or ill a K9 can’t testify in court. No, we haven’t quite come that far.

Except maybe in Punta Gorda, Florida

In 2012, a defendant called a K9 as a witness for the defense. Deputy Franko, K9 Azor’s handler, had given defendant Rodney McGee a ticket. What happened next? Reporters who covered the story at the time explained.

No, K9 Azor didn’t have much to say, after all. But we can’t really know what he’d have said, if he’d been trained on a sound board like Stella’s. Imagine a K9 trained on one that said things such as “suspect,” “drugs,” or “explosives.”

Stay tuned. At the rate things are going, real-live XK9s may come sooner than we think!

IMAGE CREDITS: The cover art for What’s Bred in the Bone is © 2019 by Jody A. Lee. Many thanks to YouTube and Vines Motion for the “Funny Talking Dogs” video compilation, and to NOVA on PBS, for the video of Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Chaser. The photo montage of Fernie the “reading dog” is courtesy of SWNS / David Hedges, via the Telegraph UK.  I’m grateful to Christina Hunger’s Hungerforwords YouTube channel for the video of Stella using multiple words, and to The Leak Source on YouTube, for the report on K9 Azor’s trip to court. I appreciate you all!

this graphic shows where dogs look on dog or human faces to get clues about the other individual's emotions.

Dog cognition: how much does your dog understand?

The cover of "What's Bred in the Bone" is © 2019 by Jody A. Lee. It shows XK9 Rex, the sapient canine protagonist, front and center.
What’s Bred in the Bone: now available.

Back in August, I wrote a guest post on dog cognition for Booker T’s Farm. That blog also later posted a very nice review of What’s Bred in the Bone. Booker T’s style, however, didn’t include the hyperlinks to my sources that I’d suggested.

Because science doesn’t stand still, there’s also some updated information to add. I’ve previously written about working dogs on this blog. So I’ve decided to expand on my August post.

How much do dogs really understand?

Have you ever wondered how much your dog knows? Does she really understand your facial expressions and gestures? Is his behavior mostly instinct and the impulse of the moment, or is it rooted in more complex thought processes?

Recent studies suggest the answers to all of these questions are “more than you might think.” Just how much your dog understands is still being studied, but it’s already clear we have more in common with our canine companions than we might imagine.

The skeleton of a puppy shares a Stone Age grave with the skeletons of a man and a woman, buried like a member of the family.
This puppy, buried in a Stone Age grave along with a man and a woman in Oberkassel, Germany (today in a suburb of Bonn) shows signs that it died of distemper, and would likely have been cared for over a period of many weeks. Sick though it was, its people apparently loved it. (screen capture from a video by University of Alberta, via National Geographic).

An ancient bond

Humans have a longer history of evolving side by side with dogs than with any other domesticated animal species. Archaeologists have found dog remains with a human burial as long ago as 14,000 years ago. But geneticists have found mutations that would suggest a more domesticated diet that date back some 32,000 years.

There’s even a sandstone cliff in Saudi Arabia that offers pictorial documentation of a man hunting with dogs (on leashes?) that’s more than 8,000 years old. This video is short, but informative:

So dogs and humans have had a pretty long time to get used to each other. How much have we “rubbed off on each other”? Some researchers say quite a lot! Neither humans nor dogs would be what we are today, without each other

That’s true physically, but studies in dog cognition also tell us it’s true in terms of dogs’ brains. This first became clear when dogs showed they could easily understand gestures such as a human pointing to an object, although chimpanzees could not. They are more tuned in to what humans are doing.

Watch the eyes (and the eyebrows!)

Researchers also have shown that dogs pay attention to where we are looking , and recognize the difference between happy and angry human expressions

According to a study from the University of Helsinki, "the social gazing behavior of domestic dogs resembles that of humans: dogs view facial expressions systematically, preferring eyes. In addition, the facial expression alters their viewing behavior, especially in the face of threat."
According to a study from the University of Helsinki, “the social gazing behavior of domestic dogs resembles that of humans: dogs view facial expressions systematically, preferring eyes. In addition, the facial expression alters their viewing behavior, especially in the face of threat.” (Photo: S.Somppi Ja 123RF.DOI: 10.1371/Journal.Pone.0143047)

Moreover, recent studies have established that dogs have more facial muscles than wolves. The muscles that move their eyebrows and give them such expressive faces developed after they’d become a separate species. In other words, they have puppy-dog eyes, and they are not afraid to use them

Believe it or not, this reflects sophisticated dog cognition. Along with the “pointing tests,” it shows that that dogs have a “theory of mind. That’s the ability to intuit how others see the world and even, to some extent, know what they’re thinking,” according to studies done by Duke University researchers.

Dogs may not be as smart as humans (yet), but their cognitive capabilities run deeper than many people imagine. We’ll look at more aspects of this next week, in my mid-week post. 

Till then, I’d be fascinated to learn your thoughts on this post, and read any stories about super-smart dogs you have known, if you’d care to share them in the comments section.

IMAGE CREDITS: The cover artwork for What’s Bred in the Bone is © 2019 by Jody A. Lee. The photo of a puppy buried in a Stone Age grave is a screen capture from a video by University of Alberta, posted by National Geographic. The video about the ancient Saudi Arabian petroglyphs of hunters with dogs (on leashes?) is courtesy of YouTube and Science Magazine.  The illustration that describes where dogs typically look at faces depicting emotion is from the University of Helsinki, by S.Somppi Ja 123RF.DOI: 10.1371/Journal.Pone.0143047. Many thanks to all!

Service

Please accept my apologies. This was scheduled to go live Wednesday, 12/5/18. It failed to publish for reasons I don’t understand.

Like many people around the world, I was touched by this photo of President George H. W. Bush’s service dog Sully by his casket this weekend.

The late President George H.W. Bush’s service dog Sully helped him with “a list that’s two pages long” of tasks, after his wife Barbara passed away earlier this year. Photo by Evan Sisley.

I’ve written about service animals repeatedly on this blog, including in a series of Images of Interest in January 2017, the first of which is here. Several species can be taught to perform a variety of helpful tasks, including monkeys and miniature horses, but the vast majority of service animals (as opposed to emotional support animals or ESAs), and the ones most clearly identified as such in the ADA language, are dogs.

Regulatory language established under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA)signed into law by President George H.W. Bush, says “service animals must be individually trained to do work or carry out tasks” on behalf of the disabled person. The original language did not specify acceptable species, but currently only dogs are recognized as service animals under Title II and Title III, but an exception is made for miniature horses in some cases.

What are they “individually trained” to do? Here’s a video that offers a sampling of three major kinds of service training, as guide dogshearing dogs, and mobility dogs:



However, those three specialty areas are only the beginning. They can be trained to do all sorts of things.

There has, of course, been controversy recently about emotional support animals traveling and having access to facilities from which pets are banned, particularly in the wake of an incident when a woman attempted to bring a “comfort peacock” on a United flightIn October 2018, Southwest Airlines limited acceptable species to dogs, cats, and miniature horses

Miniature horses mostly appear to be used as guide animals for the blindHere’s an overview with several good pictures, including a situation that occurred in a devout Muslim family. Their culture considers dogs to be unclean animals, and therefore not acceptable in the home–but horses are okay. I also found a rather fuzzy 2009 video from The Rachael Ray Show (they’re worrying about ADA regulations that ultimately did include guide horses) but Ann Edie and Panda, the guide horse Rachael Ray featured, are also featured in a much clearer video from 2017.

No, cats can’t be service animals under ADA regulations (after all cats have staff. They aren’t servants themselves! That would be a perversion of nature. Right?). But apparently they can be ESAs, according to Southwest. Currently banned are all other animals, including ferrets, pigs, parrotsmonkeys, and, yes, peacocks.

If you’re wondering what will become of Sully, who was trained by America’s VetDogsthe family and American VetDogs has announced that “Sully will be joining the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center’s Facility Dog Program.” As Kathleen Curthoys put it in her Military Times article, “Sully will work with other dogs assisting with physical and occupational therapy to wounded soldiers and active-duty personnel during their recovery at Walter Reed in Bethesda, Maryland.” 

IMAGES: Many thanks to Military Times, for Evan Sisley‘s photo of Sully by his late master’s casket, to Omni Military Loans for the video about service dogs, and to All 4 for the video about Panda the guide horse.

So, I wrote this book . . . the saga continues.

Anyone who’s been reading this blog periodically may have stumbled onto a mention or three about the science fiction novel I’ve been working on.

To be fair, it’s a science fiction universe I’ve been creating, the physical setting and milieu for a whole series of novels. Any blog posts I’ve written about future trends, such as last year’s series on automation, the DIY Space Station seriesfirst responders, and/or police K-9sMWDs, or service animals, all have been directly inspired by research aimed at making my fictional world seem more real.

The book’s still not published, so, no: this is not a sales pitch. It’s more like an update. After the 2016 post that marked the end of an early draft, it went through a series of editorial reviews by professionals I trust, as well as a lot of beta-readers’ reviews (note: beta-readers are kind of like beta testers, only for books).

And it underwent lots and lots (and lots and lots) of revisions. As far as the comments from my various critique resources have been going, it apparently continues to improve. I recently sent it off for what I hope is a final round of critiques. Considering the sequel’s now almost finished, I’m hopeful I can offer more substantive updates here soon.

IMAGES: Many thanks to the ever-witty Tom Gauld, via Pinterest, for the “Jealous of my Jetpack” picture, to Roxanne Smolen’s Instagram Page for the illustrated Phyllis Whitney quote, and to Kathy R. Jeffords for the “2nd Draft Won’t Kill You” design and thought.

For Companion Animals

Day Six: Gratitude for Companion Animals

When placed up there next to some of the other massive issues (yesterday I was talking about global food security, for example), the blessing of having a companion animal in one’s home at first doesn’t seem to be in exactly the same league.

But human-animal bonds are ancient and strong. I have argued on this blog in the past that the history and development of humans would have been considerably different without domesticated animals–especially dogs (dogs are my ultimate favorite animals, so I admit I’m sorely biased).

It’s a really incomplete picture to leave out cats, horses/donkeys/mules, cattle/oxen/water buffaloes, sheep, goats, swine, chickens and other poultry, rabbits, guinea pigs, camels, and llamas, though. Indeed, without mice, rats, and other animals, our medical history also would have progressed much differently.

But this post is particularly concerned with companion animals–the very dearest pets, the ones we invite into our homes, and often consider to be members of the family. Readers of this series with exceptionally good memories will recall from the latter paragraphs of Monday’s post that I do consider ours to be family members.

We have several decades’ worth of studies that affirm their value, at this point, though the unenlightened in Western society still all too often insist “it’s just an animal.” Poor things: they simply have no idea.

I can personally attest to the importance of companion animals for meeting people and staving off loneliness (yes, that’s me in the photo above, with my current dog Jake). The very best way to meet people in our neighborhood is to take the dog out for a walk.

As to staving off loneliness? My dearly-loved Chihuahua-MinPin mix (who stayed right beside me through three successive bouts of pneumonia one horrible winter, and who still is featured in my Facebook profile pic) died the Christmas before both of my kids moved away to college and took all the other resident animals with them. With my Beloved working extremely long hours, if I hadn’t gotten my little Iggy-girl Brenna that following November I think I’d have gone into an even deeper depression from sheer loneliness.

My daughter spent more than a year, living mostly–except for her animals–alone in California, doing hard, undervalued work as a caregiver to an elderly relative. She did make friends, but her animals helped keep her sane. They still do, even as she faces new challenges.

I also can attest to the beneficial effects of companion animals on children. In my family’s case, two Border Collies and a Bernese Mountain Dog-shepherd mix helped my Beloved and me rear our kids, assisted by several cats and an assortment of gerbils and hooded rats (at our church, my daughter became known as the “gerbil-whisperer” for good reason!).

It is perhaps needless to say that I believe that the initiatives to use therapy animals for everything from the “reading dogs” who help beginning readers strengthen their skills to the “comfort animals” who visit hospitals and hospicesdisaster sites, and nursing homes are well-advised to tap into the almost-magical connection humans have with companion animals.

I’m a strong believer in the value of the human-animal bond. As our society splinters into ever-smaller family units and as people “cocoon” in their homes more and more (the telecommuting fad seems to have peaked, but internet sales still continue to gain on actual face-to-face shopping in brick-and-mortar retail stores), humans’ essential, social-animal nature hasn’t changed. It’s healthier to connect with an animal than with nothing and no one at all. I could argue that our animals are one of the last things keeping us connected to ourselves.

The health benefits of companion-animal ownership–both mental and physical health–are well-documented and hard to dispute. The soul-benefits are harder to define, but no less important.

IMAGES: The “Seven Days of Gratitude” design is my own creation, for well or ill. If for some reason You’d like to use it, please feel free to do so, but I request attribution and a link back to this post. Likewise, the three quotes from Allan M. Beck and Marshall Meyers all were extracted from an article by “Anna” on Ethical Pets The Blog, but the photos are variously by my daughter and me, of ourselves and some of the dogs in our lives. I did the design work for all three of those quote-images. Feel free to re-post them, but please include an attribution and a link back to this post. Thanks! The Jane Goodall quote image is from the Eco Watch site, from a post by “True Activist” last April. The Anatole France quote image is from One Green Planet (featuring a photo by Wendy Piersall), via Pinterest. Many thanks to all!

Dogs teaching kids how to read

The Artdog Images of Interest

My Images of Interest this month spotlight creative and unconventional approaches to teaching that have been gaining traction in schools, libraries, and other places devoted to teaching–including our own homes, if we share them with children.

Literacy dogs:

By now, the science is pretty well settled: reading to a calm, accepting dog (or other animal) really does help children learn to read better. Here’s a video that covers most of the important things about kids reading to dogs.

My first video is about therapy dogs of R.E.A.D., Reading Education Assistance Dogs, from Intermountian Therapy Animals, an organization started in Salt Lake City, UT in 1999. It’s a group I’ve blogged about before.

But now for a little something different: how about a dog who inspires children to read–by reading, himself?

Meet Fernie, whose owner Nik Gardner (headmaster of the school where Fernie works) chose him for his temperament, and taught him not only to be a literacy-support therapy dog, but to respond without verbal cues to commands that are printed on flash cards. He’d learned to read four different commands (“Sit,” “Down,” “Roll Over,” and “Spin”) when they were featured in The Telegraph in February 2016, but Gardner vowed then to teach him more.

Regular readers of this blog will remember I’ve featured literacy dogs before. Just sayin’–they do their work well. You’ll probably see them featured here again!

IMAGES AND VIDEOS: Many thanks to VOA for the video and photo of the R.E.A.D. program in the New York City Public Schools. Thanks also to The Telegraph, and to SWNS TV, photographer David Hedges and YouTube for the information, video, and photo of Nik Gardner with Fernie.

A “pawsitive” difference for Hospice patients

The Artdog Image(s) of Interest

This week’s “making a positive difference” (perhaps I should say a “Pawsitive” difference) Image of Interest is drawn from a video. Anyone who has followed this blog for a while has undoubtedly picked up on my love and respect for service animals of all types, but this week’s image is important to me for several reasons.

First, I have a family member whose certified Emotional Support dog has recently become a crucial part of winning her battle with addiction. Second, this week has been especially tough for several of my friends as a mutual acquaintance has gone into Hospice care for the final stage of her life.

I have long been an advocate of animal therapy for a variety of situations. this includes supporting children’s reading with dogs, therapy animals in hospitals and hospice settings, and service animals that assist the disabled, or help those with health issues (diabetes and seizure disorders to name just two) stay on top of their conditions.

Does your pet have the makings of a good therapy animal? Purebred or rescue, critters with the right temperament can make an incredible difference. I hope you’ll find inspiration in this video, which features the work of several different therapy dogs, including Lanie, who’s featured in our photo above.

IMAGE and VIDEO: Both the still photo and the video about San Diego Hospice therapy dog program demonstrate their well-deserved reputation as a “pioneering organization in end-of-life care.” Unfortunately, this program closed in 2016. I’ve chosen to post the images anyway, because they still demonstrate some of the best positive aspects of therapy animal work.

Yet more evidence that dogs are wonderful

The other day I came upon what I think is a wonderful story from the Denver, Colorado area. I’ve shared stories about a variety of service dogs on this blog, but this is the first “facility dog” I’ve encountered. 

This is one way that Pella helps comfort child witnesses, out of sight of the jury.

This program in Colorado was born of the persistent vision and efforts of criminal investigator Amber Urban, who got the idea from the Courthouse Dogs program in Seattle, WA. Over time, the Arapahoe County Courthouse has become one of several courthouses and child-services facilties where Pella and others like her are now accepted.

Pella helps children feel more empowered during what can be an extremely stressful interview or turn on the witness stand. The interviewers make a point of letting the child decide if Pella should be there or not (giving him or her a bit of control, in what is almost guaranteed to be a frightening, out-of-control experience).

IMAGES: Many thanks to the Denver Post’s excellent 8/18/2016 article about Pella and the “facility dogs” program in Colorado, by John Wenzel, from which some of the background material for this post was drawn, for the photo of Pella in “stealth mode” on the witness stand, and to YouTube, OakwoodNS, and KUSA for the 2012 video clip about Pella.

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