Ask CancerCare

Every month, featured experts answer your questions about coping with cancer including specific answers to questions asked by caregivers.

For Any Cancer Diagnosis

    Q. How do I go about seeing if I can have my dog trained to be a therapy dog (and for me to become a volunteer)?

    A.

    Thank you for asking this important question. First, I want to say that it is quite an admirable act to seek out therapy dog training with your dog – this type of work is very powerful and can enrich the lives of others in need while connecting you with your community. Witnessing the healing power of the human-animal bond can be a fulfilling and meaningful endeavor and both you and your dog will learn and grow from this experience. It has been well documented that interacting with a dog (or other domesticated animal) can reduce blood pressure, ease stress and anxiety, and contribute to an overall sense of well being. Specifically, for those with compromised immune systems because of cancer or other illnesses, as well as those with a history of trauma, abuse or mental illness, this type of therapy is truly a gift. The presence of a loving, warm and accepting creature can provide relief to those coping with all types of illnesses and can create a deep sense of connection, healing and hope.

    There are different ways to approach the process of volunteering with your dog. Some organizations require you to go through a registration process, whereas others require you to obtain certification. Registration requires you to have your dog evaluated by a therapy dog evaluator, then your dog can go on to become registered within your state. Certification requires a bit more involvement with the dog and handler upfront (called a “therapy animal team”), but this route also provides more comprehensive training and support from a team of professionals. The steps to become a certified therapy animal team include a required evaluation of your dog’s basic abilities and temperament, as well as an assessment of your own comfort with your dog and the public. Next, there are several classes that you and your dog will attend to become certified and registered in your state. If you would prefer to pursue the certification route, there is an organization called Pet Partners that conducts a training called “How to Become a Registered Therapy Animal Team.” If you would prefer to simply have your dog registered, you can contact Therapy Dogs International to get you started

    Whichever route you choose, this is a wonderful and worthwhile endeavor. Good luck to you and your dog as you learn to help others together.

    Q. My mom has been in and out of the hospital due to complications from her chemo. Her dog stays with me when she is hospitalized, but I know it's hard for her to be away from him. Is there any service that would bring pets to visit her? Who would I ask?

    A.

    I’m so sorry about your mom’s most recent difficulties with her chemotherapy treatments; this must be causing such a disruption in her life, from both a medical and emotional perspective. With that said, your idea is a wonderful one! You are identifying a key component in improving her health and well being. It sounds like her dog is not only a valued family member, but a lifeline, and I can understand why it would be so important for her (and you too) to have him by her side as she copes with the challenges of these complications. While recent research supports the idea that a pet can benefit those who are ill in many ways, most health care settings lag behind in terms of implementing these ideas. In good news however, there are more and more hospitals employing programs that allow patients’ pets to be brought in for visitation. This article featured by the New York Times can help to guide you in the process of talking with the hospital staff about this. You can even present this article to your mother’s medical team to help them to better understand the idea and its benefits.

    Also, this organization’s mission is to connect humans with their pets, especially in a health care setting. Perhaps they can be of help: Pets Are Wonderful Support (PAWS)

    I sincerely hope that you are able to help your mom to connect with her dear dog. Good luck to you!

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