Re­search shows ther­apy dogs help vet­er­ans

Regina Leader-Post - - City + Region - BRE MCA­DAM

A small, golden dog named Kendi sits on Don Bar­rett’s lap, play­fully lick­ing the el­derly man’s fin­ger. Bar­rett, a 96-year-old war vet­eran, says dogs like this one bring back some of his favourite mem­o­ries.

The self-pro­claimed an­i­mal lover was part of a re­search project that stud­ied the health ef­fects of ther­apy dogs on el­derly vet­er­ans.

“I think an­i­mals know whether you like them or not. I tick­led his chin and he was lick­ing me and we got along fa­mously,” Bar­rett said about a dif­fer­ent dog he met two or three times last year.

He said the ther­apy dogs re­minded him of his own dogs. Bar­rett shared sto­ries of his spaniel and Bor­der Col­lie leav­ing a trail of car­rot tops in his gar­den, and how they loved go­ing for walks. His eyes welled up when the tale ended with hav­ing to put the dogs down.

Mem­o­ries like Bar­rett’s were an im­por­tant find­ing in the re­search con­ducted by Uni­ver­sity of Saskatchew­an pro­fes­sors like Dr. Colleen Dell, who saw how cathar­tic it was for vet­er­ans to reminisce.

“That feel­ing of en­joy­ment. They felt com­fort and sup­port,” she said.

One of the most sur­pris­ing re­search find­ings was how ther­apy dogs’ han­dlers play a huge role in help­ing vet­er­ans ex­press their feel­ings, Dell added.

Most vet­er­ans who took part in the study had a va­ri­ety of health is­sues. Dell said in some cases, the dogs seemed to tem­po­rar­ily sup­press their symp­toms. An­drea Ser­ack, a han­dler with the St. John Am­bu­lance Ther­apy Dog Pro­gram, said she worked with a man who had ter­ri­ble cough­ing spells.

“Those went away when he started talk­ing and con­cen­trat­ing more on (the dog), hold­ing her, keep­ing her from fall­ing,” Ser­ack said. “It took them into a dif­fer­ent state of mind com­pletely.”

“That bond be­gan to de­velop over time. So as soon as he would see the an­i­mal, then it was just like light­ing up.... That phys­i­cal af­fec­tion is not some­thing a lot of the elders may be re­ceiv­ing.”


War vet­eran Don Bar­rett plays with ther­apy dog Kendi dur­ing a news con­fer­ence at the Uni­ver­sity of Saskatchew­an on Fri­day. Re­searchers were study­ing the ef­fects the dogs have on el­derly veter­ans.

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