A Dog Named Slugger: How Service Dogs Improve the Lives of Many
Consider these surprising studies concerning the benefit of trained service dogs to help all kinds of disabilities:
A recent survey showed that 82 percent of patients with PTSD who were assigned a dog had a decrease in symptoms, and 40 percent had a decrease in the medications they had to take.” –Dr. Melisa Kaime, director of the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program (CDMRP)
- A study presented at the 2006 annual conference of the Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America (RESNA) investigated whether people with severe disabilities who use service dogs are less dependent on family and friends to carry out activities of daily living than people with similar disabilities without service dogs. Subjects who had service dogs used approximately 4.3 hours per week less assistance from family and friends than their counterparts. –Robert Milan, Shirley Fitzgerald, Diane Collins, Amanda Reinsfelder, and Michelle Sporner
- A study with the Texas Hearing and Service Dogs (THSD) assessed the benefits of the placement of service dogs with persons with mobility impairments. Participants reported that their service dogs had a positive effect on going out in public, feeling needed, feeling independent, and safety. Further, respondents reported that more people approached them when in public. Responses from the participants who had already had a service dog for longer periods of time substantiated the positive effects reported by the group that responded both before and after placement of a dog. Self‐esteem, as measured by the Rosenberg Self‐Esteem Scale, was enhanced significantly from before to after placement of a service dog. Family caregivers also benefited by being able to pursue other activities and by having more peace of mind. –Diana Rintala, Natalie Sachs-Ericsson, and Karen Hart
- A cross-sectional study published in the journal “Disability and Rehabilitation: Assistive Technology” examined whether partnering with service dogs influenced psychosocial well-being and community participation of adult individuals using wheelchairs or scooters. Of participants with progressive conditions, those with service dogs demonstrated significantly higher positive affect scores than comparison group participants. Among those with clinical depression, service dog partners scored significantly higher in positive affect. –D.M. Collins, Shirley Fitzgerald, Natalie Sach-Ericsson, M. Scherer, R.A. Cooper, M.L. Boninge
You get the idea. Trained service dogs are not only aids to psychiatric illnesses, but any kind of disability, from visual impairment to autism.
One of the more touching stories I’ve read regarding heroic dogs is published in a new, intriguing book, A Dog Named Slugger, by Leigh Brill. In her prologue, she shares a story that condenses all the studies above in a heartfelt expression of what these creatures can do for both body and mind, and the transformative power of their attention and devotion. It makes for a great starting point for anyone considering investing in a trained service dog:
My hands were trembling again. I needed to get a quarter out of my purse, but my quivering fingers made the task feel as intricate as neurosurgery. It’s always been that way with cerebral palsy—sometimes I just shake. I can’t help it. Still, the tired store clerk waiting at the counter in front of me didn’t understand this. She sighed, clearly wishing I would hurry up and pay for my purchase. I would have liked to be able to do that.
At last I grasped the quarter. I started to hand it to the clerk, and my fingers slipped. With a familiar flat plink, the coin hit the floor and rolled past the purple metal legs of my wheelchair. It was far beyond my reach now, but I knew what to do. I spoke softly to the companion who was standing attentively at my side, and he did what I could not. He retrieved the wayward quarter and put it carefully on the counter before taking his place once more. I smiled when he did this. Now the tired clerk was smiling too. “How amazing!” she exclaimed. “I never knew a dog could do that!”
My Labrador, Slugger, flicked his tongue across his jowls as if to remove the taste of the quarter. He was a highly trained service dog; for him, scooping a fallen coin into his mouth—and then spitting it out on command—was routine. Slugger was accustomed to retrieving anything that slipped from my grasp. My canine partner also carried my belongings, fetched my telephone, and opened heavy doors for me. His unwavering devoting brought me confidence and joy. With Slugger by my side, I discovered the life-changing power of unconditional love. And I learned that even the most formidable challenges can offer something good.
Her last two sentences sum up the healing powers of our canine friends: they offer unconditional love and teach their owners the hidden benefits of debilitating illnesses. And as a result, many regain confidence and joy.
To visit Leigh Brill’s website, click here.
Photo courtesy of http://www.kptv.com.