Piper Finds Her Special is a wonderful book about therapy dogs by Alison Keenan with the intent of promoting and easing children into a love of reading.
The star of Piper Finds Her Special, this wonderful book about a therapy dog by Alison Keenan, is precisely Piper, a lovely and friendly golden retriever who is also trained—quite well, at that—as a therapy dog. So, in case it isn’t too blunt, the eponymous Piper is a brilliant therapy dog trying to teach kids of all ages the importance of nurturing a budding love for literature and reading in general.
But what exactly is a therapy dog, and what do they do?
Well, a therapy dog is any canine friend that has been taught to accompany patients and give them affection, comfort, and support. They can be found working happily in hospitals, nursing homes, schools, and other places where learning and recovery are the primary focus. Compared to assistance dogs, which are trained to help out with day-to-day tasks for people who have physical or mental disabilities, therapy dogs have the broader task of mainly interacting with all types of people, including their coaches.
A Short History of Therapy Dogs
Medical professionals have sought the help of dogs for therapeutic ventures for the last two centuries. It was in the late 1800s that the pioneer of modern nursing, Florence Nightingale, first observed the psychological benefits that small animals had on young and older patients who were admitted to psychiatric institutions: reduction of anxiety, improvement of recovery and alleviation of depression. A similar effect was noticed by Sigmund Freud when during therapeutic sessions with his patients in the 1930s, the presence of his pet dog had a positive influence on communication, where patients were more open and receptive to his questioning and approach. In 1976, the first-ever therapy dog organization was founded by Elain Smith, who discovered the productive influence pet dogs had on the recovery of hospital patients during her tenure as a registered nurse.
So, if you think that maybe therapy dogs are not qualified to help anyone with therapy and similar fields, you don’t have to worry—they have had a storied history with patients and are as old as modern nursing itself!
The Many Types
Like there are many breeds of dogs, there are also plenty of types of therapy dogs (of course, they don’t number close to the number of canine breeds out there—thank God!). What type of therapy dog there is, is usually because of the specialty they are taught—and these specialties are:
- Animal-assisted therapy dogs, or AAT dogs, are tasked with offering up help to patients with specific objectives and to those who are on their road to recovery. Their primary tasks are assisting patients with reacquiring or reacclimating physical skills, like balancing, standing up, limb movements, and hand-eye coordination. These therapy dogs are specially trained to move with their patients and provide encouragement by way of their affection and following them around. They are skilled in certain activities that let them improve their skills. These are the therapy dogs that can be found in most institutions that provide rehabilitation.
- Facility therapy dogs are tasked with assisting patients in specific areas, usually facilities that have admitted patients, like nursing homes or hospitals. They usually have homes in the facilities themselves, although some facility workers have them as pets. Their primary job is to accompany patients with difficult cognitive illnesses like Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and other similar ailments.
- Grief therapy dogs, otherwise known as emotional support dogs or companion dogs, or comfort dogs, are tasked with being animal companions for people who are undergoing great mental stress, such as grief or depression. They primarily attend to patients with lots and lots of attention and affection, staving off creeping feelings of isolation and anxiety. They are great deliverers of sanctuary and peace, being ports of respite for particularly distressed individuals who have difficulty dealing with other people.
- Therapeutic visitation dogs are tasked with improving the mental health of patients by helping socialize with other patients and encouraging them to step out and move about. These dogs are usually household pets that have been trained to assist patients and are owned by people who frequently visit hospitals and similar places.