Four-legged friends give that unconditional love, security, companionship and encouragement to those who need it most. Research shows pets trigger a spike in endorphin levels – the feel good hormones – and decrease cortisol, linked to stress. It can have a profound effect on a person’s blood pressure, heart rate and overall well-being. This interaction has also been shown to improve survival after a heart attack. The effect is often more profound than relaxation training or meditation.
To a person facing cancer, the simple and unconditional love and affection of an animal can make the difference between a good and bad day. For patients at Marshall Medical Center, that care is now enhanced by the addition of MAX, a warm and furry bundle of therapy bringing smiles. “He’s so sweet and darling, you can’t help but smile even on the tough days,” saying Peggy Romary who is fighting inoperable pancreatic cancer. MAX, a hypoallergenic Labradoodle is now two years old and works throughout the week to improve outcomes for those who take comfort in his endearing presence.
The results of Animal Assisted Therapy in the treatment of patients have had significant results. In one study of the effect of dogs with patients, psychologists noted an 82% reduction in symptoms. One particular case noted that interacting with the dog for as little as one week, enabled a patient to decrease the amount of anxiety and sleep medication by half. Even the Department of Defense is investing in canine therapy for the treatment of PTSD patients.
Canines have also been used with adult rehabilitation patients with goals of increased functional balance, range of motion and upper extremity strength, increased mobility and endurance for independence, and to provide socialization opportunities while recovering from physical trauma.
A trauma therapy dog named Hawk made history in Canada last year. He was allowed to accompany a young girl to court while she and her brother testified in a sexual assault trial. Having Hawk in the courtroom gave the girl a sense of support and comfort, making the difficult situation a little bit easier.
In 2014 Wells Fargo Bank provided the first initial funding of the new MAX Fund established in El Dorado County that supports canine therapy. It has helped our patients, especially those walking the journey of a cancer diagnosis. The situations where canine therapy could be used here in our own backyard are endless.