Therapy Dogs Lend Emotional Support to the Petless



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A therapy dog named Hobo snuggles with residents at Country Place Senior Living in Canton

Courtesy photo

Few pet lovers are surprised by news that being around animals may help lower blood pressure, reduce stress, and even lengthen human life spans, but researchers continue to study the benefits of the human-animal bond. And organizations like the National Center for Health Research note that the elderly, in particular, benefit from interactions with therapy dogs — with positives ranging from reduced levels of pain and anxiety to less loneliness. 

Of course, Vickie Ragle of Therapy Dogs of Van Zandt County doesn’t need statistics or studies to prove any of this. She sees the effects every day.

“It definitely has a positive effect,” she says.  “When we go to a nursing home, the caregivers come running to us. They tell us how people who haven’t been responsive to anything for weeks light up like lightbulbs when we get there with our dogs. It’s truly amazing.”

With a roster of about 16 therapy dogs and 10 volunteer handlers, Ragle’s organization tries to fill the emotional void for folks in senior living situations or rehab facilities. Her teams schedule regular visits and petting sessions.

Operating according to the requirements of an organization called the Alliance of Therapy Dogs, Ragle trains her dogs and owners via the organization’s certification standards, and her teams make weekly or monthly appearances at destinations like Canton Oaks Care Center, the Country Place Senior Living Homes, Canton Healthcare, and Crestwood Health and Rehab Homes. Therapy Dogs of Van Zandt County also visits the Van Zandt Library for a Dog Days Reading Program and occasionally makes appearances at schools.

Ragle says that during their visits to senior living facilities, the volunteers and dogs generally set up in a common area or physical therapy room, then make the rounds, touring individual residents’ rooms as needed or requested. She says they stay as long as they need to stay, usually two to three hours — and “sometimes that’s determined by the dogs.”

“Dogs know a lot more than we do,” she explains. “They respond to people’s emotions. We’ve learned not to rush the dogs, and not to make them stay longer than they want to either.” 

Ragle has five dogs of her own — Ladybug and Gigi are therapy dogs, but the other three don’t have the disposition for it, she notes. A lifelong animal lover, Ragle worked with the Citizens League for Animal Welfare (CLAW) until 2010, then founded Therapy Dogs in 2012. 

As a donor-funded program, Therapy Dogs relies on community contributions and doesn’t take payment from the medical facilities or others for its furry visitations. For more information, call 903.880.3514 or visit the organization’s website at therapydogs.com.

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