Frankie posing in her new bandanna after receiving her therapy dog certification in 2008
Recently I overheard someone (who is training her dog to be a therapy dog) ask a former teacher if she felt it was a good idea to bring therapy dogs into classrooms. The response was: “I think therapy dogs are overworked and this causes them stress and why they die so young.” I was very surprised to hear this for so many reasons– and yes, in part, because I took it personally because Frankie was a therapy dog. It is likely she didn’t mean me personally, but it seemed to include all therapy dogs, that I can’t help but speak to this. And on the behalf of not knowing the full reasons for this being said maybe there was a situation in this person’s life that has caused her to feel this way.
Are there people who put undo stress on their dogs? Yes, no doubt. But there are many other situations where dogs are caused stress. But I’ll speak to the therapy dog issue and my thoughts. First and foremost, I was always very conscious of never putting any undo stress on Frankie. Her well being always came first. I loved my work with her, and I was so passionate about sharing our message. But as she aged I knew we needed to slow down. I knew I had to be very aware of what she could handle and that she needed time to just be a dog too. I found ways around it like using Skype and social media to share our message without putting stress on her.
Most dogs need a job. This has been said over and over again. Not all dogs are meant to be therapy dogs, but many that are, are really good at their job. They also have positively impacted so many lives in so many amazing ways. Can they get stressed from being a therapy dog? Absolutely! Especially in a hospice situation where they take in all the emotions that go with that. It is very trying on a dog to do that line of work. So it’s important that the owner is aware of this and watches for signs of stress in their pet and limit their exposure.
Animals in classrooms have also proven to instill so many valuable lessons. It makes me sad to think if Frankie and I would never have had the opportunity to help children because of this opinion that may be shared by others too. For the most part, I think therapy dog work is such a win-win for all involved. It gives the dog a job to do. It gives the owner of the pet a wonderful experience in not only the deepening of their relationship with their pet, but the people and children they meet along the way.
I guess the bottom line for me hearing this is that I didn’t feel it was completely true. Yes, there are exceptions where pets are exploited and overworked, and this causes me great sadness when I think this has happened. Also there are oodles of reasons why a dog may die young. Could overworking your dog as a therapy dog be one of them? Yes, I’m sure it could and I think it is important that handlers recognize and realize this and that their dogs need time off. And in a recent interview I did with Lisa J. Edwards who is the author of A Dog Named Boo she stated that dogs are not meant to work eight hours a day and why she teaches responsible therapy dog work to those interested in this line of voluntary work.
So again, while I don’t know the full circumstances to why this statement was made, I did feel it important to clarify the good side to therapy dog work while also bringing attention to those that have a therapy dog, or those giving thought to it, that they are cognizant of their pets, making sure they are healthy and as happy as can be.
Award winning author of Frankie the Walk 'N Roll Dog book series
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