Dinesh* had a dream. A strapping young man, he had joined the army with the aim of defending his country, and marrying off his teenage sister. Sadly, in the blink of an eye and the sound of an explosion, the dream turned into a nightmare. He awoke one day to find himself in a hospital bed, his legs replaced by bandaged stumps.
“He has been depressed ever since he gained consciousness,” the Dean of the Army hospital in Pune, informed me. “He is so ashamed of his condition that he refuses to meet his family and has tried to take his life on many an occasion.” As the dean spoke, I watched as Dinesh glanced over at the small black Labrador- Honey, by my side. Honey and I were on a visit to the hospital to demonstrate the benefits of Assistance Dogs to the men crippled by war.
As the dean continued about how Dinesh hardly ever spoke and hadn’t smiled for the past six months, Dinesh wiggled his fingers at Honey. The Labrador in her needed no further invitation. Tail wagging furiously she ambled over and placed her orange squeaky ball right on his chest and stepped back, her eyes inviting him to play. Dinesh was delighted! The corners of his eyes crinkled as he made an enormous effort and swapped the ball to the floor. Honey, equally thrilled at finding a playmate, grabbed the ball and promptly deposited it back on his chest. They played the game for half an hour. When it was time to leave, Dinesh encouraged Honey up onto his bed and gave the panting Lab a huge hug as tears rolled down his face onto her black fur.
Every dog owner knows how much unconditional love and happiness a canine family member provides. In fact, studies have shown that people who own dogs and other animals are less stressed out, have fewer health problems and are generally happier people. Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, was the first to emphasise the therapeutic value that dogs offer people. Since then, mental health experts the world over have recognised the role dogs can play in comforting, calming and soothing the suffering.
Therapy animals are especially useful to children with behavioural disorders, or those who have been physically or emotionally abused. They motivate patients to embrace physical therapy or inspire a traumatised child to talk to a counsellor. Iqbal* was one such child at a Spastic School in Mumbai. The first time I met him he was aloof and avoided human touch. The reticent boy was one of six children chosen for animal-assisted therapy with the aim of improving his motor coordination and social responsiveness. Initially, he watched impassively as the other kids petted Honey. It took all of ten minutes and a lick from Honey to bring a smile to his face. Soon he was playing fetch with her and feeding her biscuits. By the fifth session, Iqbal was showing his classmates how to throw the toy for Honey, walking her around the class on the leash and brushing her coat. With Honey, small tasks became fun and inspired Iqbal to improve his hand-to-eye coordination. Honey didn’t mock if he couldn’t tie his shoelace. She waited patiently till his fumbling hands finally tied the knot. A dog pays little attention to age, looks or disabilities and accepts people as they are, which is why children, like Iqbal, show marked improvement in canine-assisted therapy sessions.
Therapy dog work is mostly done gratis all over the world. The best reward comes in the form of the smiles from people who haven’t smiled for months, or the tears of gratitude from people who have been able to let go of emotions that have been pent up for years on end.
– Shirin Merchant
If you have ever shared your home and heart with a dog, then you know the amazing feeling of unconditional love that a dog can bring into our lives.
Canines Can Care has been working in the field of Therapy Dog work in India since 1996.
The organisation has visited over a hundred places, including schools, playschools, colleges, offices, old age homes, institutions for physically challenged, visually challenged and hearing impaired people, rehabilitation homes among others.
If you would like the Canines Can Care therapy dog team to visit you and make your day happy, do contact us.