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Just like Batman often relies on the assistance of his trusty sidekick Robin, I have a sidekick too! Unlike Robin though my sidekick is furry, walks on four legs and has a habit of giving affectionate licks. I’m talking about Yang Chu my standard poodle of course! Yang is a therapy dog, which means he is specially trained to help my clients and their families. Yang’s natural friendliness, gentleness, and of course cuteness, seems to elicit smiles from just about everyone who interacts with him!
In the clinic I have noticed that children often find it much easier to open up when Yang is around, and when a child is upset or scared nothing is more comforting than a warm, fuzzy, happy dog to pet! Yang loves to play too, so sometimes clients might practice their social skills by interacting with him. Therapy animals can help in lots of ways and in a variety of settings. Oftentimes therapy animals are brought to hospitals to visit seriously ill children and their families and warm their spirits. Other times therapy animals are used in residential or long-term care facilities to help ward off depression and feelings of social isolation. Therapy animals can even help older adults suffering from diseases such as Alzheimer’s to improve their mood and functioning.
There is a wealth of research demonstrating the effectiveness in therapy animals, such as dogs, at improving the lives of clients. Let’s take Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) as an example. ASD is characterized by impaired social and emotional reciprocity, which refers to difficulties in communicating, having back-and-forth conversations or interactions and understanding non-verbal cues, as well as fixated and narrow interests and repetitive behaviors. The use of therapy dogs in working with children diagnosed with ASD has been shown to result in improved prosocial behaviors, increased sensitivity and focus, and many other positive effects. In fact, one study even suggested that ASD symptoms might be detected earlier than normal by observing how a child interacts with a therapy dog.
Whether a child is struggling with depression, anxiety, ASD, or any many other problems, many of them find interacting with a therapy dog to be helpful and therapeutic. Clearly the future is bright for loving and lovable four-legged friends like Yang! As Batman knows, it’s great to have a helpful sidekick you can trust.
Dr. Stephanie AND Yang Chu Mihalas