Four legs good, conclude therapy researchers

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Gary Tetz
Gary Tetz

Finding out therapy dogs slow down dementia symptoms is like discovering water quenches thirst, or shoes reduce firewalker foot pain. Of course they do. As my dogs like to say, “Grrrrr,” followed by “Duh!” 

But sometimes the obvious isn't obvious enough, so bless those Swiss and German researchers for taking time to prove an eternal truth. They could have been counting the Alps or listening in on Chancellor Merkel's cell phone calls. Instead, they chose to answer the controversial question: “Can the unconditional love and support of a cute and selfless furry creature bring happiness and hope to sick people?”

Study methods: Involve dogs in therapy. Study conclusion: Yes, it seems to help. Then all the researchers went home, petted their own dogs, asked “Who's a good boy/girl?” and turned tirelessly to the next burning project — confirming that kindness pays.

Maybe I'm so dismissive of the scientific process because I recently conducted a similar study myself, with no government or corporate funding. While visiting a nursing home, I saw a dog walking down the hall. According to my records, 94.9% of those he passed went, “Ahhhhhhh,” and 100% of the frail resident whose bedside he approached said, “Here boy! Come up!”

There were a lot of undocumented smiles and pats on the head that day, and a few illicit treats, but those were far outside the scope of my study. I'm now crunching the numbers and writing my own academic paper, but it's a slow and difficult process with one dog therapeutically biting my sleeve and the other one licking my hand.

Back in Germany, the study's authors feel that while animal therapy is a promising option, further study is needed. To which I say, absolutely. Do further study, and keep doing it over and over again. Every group of test subjects that gets to interact with dogs means another group of test subjects that gets to interact with dogs.

As renowned animal therapist George Orwell once said, “Four legs good, more dogs better.” 


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Things I Think

Things I Think is written by longtime industry columnist Gary Tetz, who resides in Portland, OR. Since his debut with at the end of a previous century, he has continued to amuse, inform and sometimes befuddle long-term care readers worldwide.