Animals can be healers, reduce stress levels, minimize anxiety and provide therapeutic value in many health and educational environments. Our dog Toby, a Chesapeake Bay retriever provided me the gift of witnessing the richness that a dog can bring to another human through unconditional love. Toby made the dog Marley (from the movie Marley and Me) look like a saint.
We adopted Toby at age five from a local animal rescue organization, and shortly thereafter discovered that that he came with his own baggage, which included breaking toilet tank lids, rearranging furniture, opening and emptying closets and hiding things, on an almost daily basis. Choosing not to give up on Toby, we called for help. Maggie a local and highly qualified K9 Behaviorist and Trainer discovered that Toby was a dog who needed a job.
Toby became a Pet Assisted Therapy Dog at a mental health hospital. Every Wednesday for 4 ½ years he stepped into his purpose- he visited with patients offering unconditional love, 100% focus, and trust. The impact on patients varied from patient to patient. Toby’s presence on the unit (and his loud bark to announce he had arrived) brought patients out of their rooms, the general mood, and energy on the unit increased. Patients became more social with one another during the visits with Toby. In many ways, this dog acted like a connector, he brought people together, and, his presence became a safe topic of conversation. His desire to entertain the patients (through his ¾ summersaults, tossing the ball at patients to play fetch and sitting with his head on their lap) also encouraged laughter. And we all know that laughter reduces stress hormones and has a positive impact on health.
There is a lot of research to substantiate that pet owners live longer and healthier lives. They are often more physically active because their pets require that of them. In fact, Dr. Dawn Marcus, a neurologist who is involved in pet assisted therapy through her dogs, has done extensive research on this very topic. Dr. Marcus also reported that animals can also reduce anxiety, assist with focus, improve the immune system, and provide extensive therapeutic benefits to healing.
Toby’s work has been chronicled in Chicken Soup for the Soul- What I learned from the dog (Sept 2009), in a story titled Volunteering From The Heart.
Toby’s children’s book was released in 2011 Toby The Pet Therapy Dog & His Hospital Friends (Bettie Youngs Books, 2011) teaching children lessons about friendship, kindness and helping others, and how a pet therapy dog can make a difference.
The patients that Toby worked with at the hospital and the thousands of children that he met in schools experienced the benefits of a therapy dog’s whose mission in life was to leave pawprints on hearts everywhere he went.
Pop on over and give a big hug :-)
He is even on Facebook making new friends - Toby on Facebook and On Toby’s Terms on Facebook
Toby’s legacy video can be found at http://www.youtube.com/user/Ontobysterms
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