Every week, my dog, Murphy, and I visit a nearby rehabilitation home for elderly patients. Murphy is a certified therapy dog, so we work together as a team to bring a little happiness into these people's lives. The hour we spend making visits is easily the highlight of my week.

As soon as Murphy and I walk into the senior home, I see people's faces immediately light up-- everyone from the residents to the staff, even visitors just passing by. A number of these people deal with chronic illnesses and not-so-fun health issues, so when Murphy visits with them (he either sits on the ground or I pick him up so he can be petted), their disposition instantly changes. It seems like the presence of a dog helps them forget the challenges that they are currently facing at least for a little while. I love seeing how much joy Murphy brings into these people's days.

Therapy dogs and other pets can have a real impact on a patients' health. Research shows they can help lower blood pressure as well as improve specific conditions, such depression and anxiety. Patients with cancer have even attributed a faster recovery thanks to a furry friend.

About six months ago, Murphy and I became a therapy dog team through a local non-profit organization called Dog B.O.N.E.S, who’s primary purpose is to train dogs for therapeutic purposes.  I wanted to get Murphy certified because he enjoys being around people so much. He loves everyone—young and old—and doesn’t mind crowds or unfamiliar places. He also loves being petted and socializing with people and other dogs. I always joke when we go to the dog park, he acts like the “pug mayor” and needs to meet everyone he sees. Basically, it was pretty obvious how much Murphy loves being around people, so I knew he’d make a great therapy dog.

In order to become a certified therapy dog team, I enrolled Murphy and I in a three-session course called “Introduction to Becoming a Therapy Dog Team Workshop” with Dog B.O.N.E.S. The training program prepared us for visits as a therapy dog team. I learned how to act as a therapy dog handler, which included how to walk with Murphy on a shorter leash and what is allowed when working with an animal in public spaces. I also learned what to expect during our visits and exposed Murphy to environments similar to those that we might encounter together.

The little furball passed the course with flying colors!

Once we were certified, Dog B.O.N.E.S helped coordinate a weekly placement for Murphy and I to make our visits. Dog B.O.N.E.S., like many therapy dog organizations, maintains relationships with hospitals, schools, rehabilitation centers, and other facilities where therapy teams are wanted. Therapy dog teams can have scheduled visits like the one Murphy and I have each week or volunteer their services as time permits.

If you'd like to find a therapy dog organization like  Dog B.O.N.E.S. in your area, try a simple web search or contact your local ASPCA for details.

Read Tina’s daily food and fitness blog, Carrots ‘N’ Cake.

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