A Furry Cure-All
The Dramatic Difference Therapy Dogs Make
Dogs are not just man’s best friend, but also can be human’s best medicine. Corporal William Wynne of Ohio and his Yorkshire terrier Smoky may have been the first therapy team to prove this fact. During World War II, Smoky, alongside Corporal Wynn, brought canine comfort to wounded soldiers on the battlefield and in hospitals. It has been known for decades that the simple presence of a loving dog at a scene of chaos and sadness does wonders for improving morale and soothing anguish.
Sadly, there have been a few incidences close to home in which emergency therapy dog services were needed. After the senseless murder of student Maren Sanchez at Jonathan Law High School in Milford this past April, the Board of Education contacted the country’s largest animal therapy organization, Pet Partners of Bellevue, Washington asking the organization to send local teams to aid in comforting the grief-stricken students and teachers. By the time school re-opened, one such team, Dennis Gallagher of Monroe, and his therapy collie Dani, visited every day for a week, encouraging kids to pet and hug this docile and compassionate pup. The teams had such an impact on healing in the community that Milford Mayor Ben Blake issued a special proclamation honoring Pet Partners and its teams.
When the Sandy Hook tragedy occurred, Gallagher was asked by the Newtown librarian to “station himself” there for set hours with his older dog, Gracie, a nine-year-old collie. Families came every day, sometimes holding the holiday parties they couldn’t have at their school in the calming presence of Gracie. “There is so much pain, sadness, and tension in these situations,” explains Dennis. “And when Gracie or Dani show up, the tone of the room changes. People can laugh, they can talk more easily.” Dennis and his dogs still regularly visit Newtown where they forged permanent bonds.
While a working therapy dog is often on call for special assignments during crises, these cherished pets usually have weekly “jobs.” Gallagher and Dani were recently invited to launch a program with the University of Bridgeport this Fall. Every Tuesday afternoon, Gallagher and Dani visit the campus. “Having them come relieves so much stress for the students,” explains Jessica Mills, Director of Counseling Services at University of Bridgeport.
“They may miss their dog at home, their family, or be stressed about school work. No matter what, it makes everyone feel better to spend some time with Dani.” Dennis also visits Bridgeport Hospital on Friday nights, moving from the ER to pediatrics, then to the oncology unit. “Everyone lights up when they see her.”
Another program Dennis and Dani participate in is READ with Inter-Mountain Therapy Animals, where young reluctant readers read to Dani during short time blocks. Studies have shown that children are less apprehensive in the presence of a therapy dog, and will usually talk more openly.
“I started doing therapy work with my dogs as a way to alleviate my own stress,” explains Gallagher, “while giving back and sharing my dogs’ compassion with people who need her.”