One recent study found therapy dogs effective in easing the anxiety of people waiting to have an MRI -- and their help didn't involve the side effects that often accompany the use of anti-anxiety medication.
"We found that people who had spent time with a therapy dog were calmer during the test than those who hadn't," said Dr. Richard Ruchman, chairman of radiology at Monmouth Medical Center in Long Branch, N.J.
Other non-traditional settings also have been utilizing animals to help keep people calm. Courtrooms are one example. "There are more and more animals allowed in court," Kueser said. "Somebody might be very upset about having to get up and testify, particularly if the person who victimized them is there. Animals have been shown to help calm people down in that setting."
Therapy dogs also are being incorporated into crisis relief efforts, said Amy Rideout, director and president of HOPE Animal-Assisted Crisis Response, a group that makes therapy dogs available at crisis scenes.
HOPE was formed shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, when social workers found that therapy dogs were helpful in getting tough Ground Zero crisis responders to open up about the toll their grisly work had been taking on their psyches, Rideout said.
"They don't want to show stress. They want to find their buddies," Rideout said of the 9/11 responders. "Many knew something was wrong, but they didn't want to talk to a mental health professional about it."
But when a therapy dog accompanied the therapist, the responders tended to open up more frequently. "The dogs made a bridge between the mental health professional and the person," she explained.
Though a wide variety of animals are utilized in therapy work, dogs still tend to bear the biggest burden. For example, dogs make up 95 percent of the pet partner teams registered with the Delta Society, Kueser
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