This month is Therapy Dog Awareness Month, providing an opportunity to raise awareness for these special canines and the support they provide to the disability community.
Therapy Dogs play a vital role in providing comfort, companionship and emotional support to individuals and those attending or residing in facilities who experience behavioural, emotional and mental health conditions, physical disabilities, or isolation caused by age or illness.
Therapy Dog Coordinator at Guide Dogs NSW/ACT, Samantha O’Keeffe says the dogs provide this support to their owners in a non-judgemental way.
“They also provide a shared interest for the owners family, friends or the wider community (schools etc),” Ms O’Keeffe says.
“They are a great catalyst for communication and conversation [and] can also encourage a sense of purpose and responsibility.”
She also notes both Therapy Dogs and Guide Dogs come from the same breeding program, undergoing the same foundation training and costing $50,000 to raise and train.
Ms O’Keeffe agrees the month is a great opportunity to raise awareness for these dogs.
“Therapy Dogs make a huge and important impact on both individuals and the community!
“We receive loads of positive feedback and hear all sorts of fantastic stories on how our Therapy Dogs help clients with disability.
“Everything from improved sleep, to a reduction in anxiety and depression, improved motivation and mood, and bringing families and communities closer together.”
Therapy Dogs do not have the same public access rights as Guide Dogs, but are being regularly incorporated into school settings to support children with autism and other conditions that may impact their learning in the classroom.
It’s not only Labrador and Golden Retrievers being trained to provide this emotional support, with organisations like Delta Society Australia training dogs of various breeds.
Their volunteer Therapy Dog teams brighten the lives of an estimated 20,000 Australians in hospitals, care facilities and prisons every week.
Throughout the month of September, organisations who raise and train therapy dogs will hold events to demonstrate their role, increasing cognitive abilities, speech and memory function and improved health and wellbeing.
To find out more about Therapy Dogs at Guide Dogs NSW/ACT click here.