DOGS ASSISTING KIDS & ADULTS
By Winston Chung
Dog ownership seems to have had a calming effect on my life, so I’m not completely surprised when I hear about new ways that canines are helping people.
Scientists aren’t really sure if dog ownership is associated with decreased allergy risk or increased physical activity in youth, but there is little doubt that service dogs are making big differences in the lives of some autistic and diabetic children.
Specially trained service dogs are helping to calm some autistic children or keep them safe, and others are sensing and warning their diabetic owners about potentially dangerous episodes of low blood sugar.
While at work, I’ve seen volunteer teams from the San Francisco SPCA Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) Program helping to ease the pain or brighten the day of some patients at the hospital.
The Puppy Dog Tales Reading program aims to promote literacy in at-risk populations by attempting to stimulate enthusiasm for reading. Teams are placed at schools or libraries and work with children during reading sessions, supporting efforts in a “non-judgmental way.”
Dr. Jennifer Emmert is the AAT Manager at the SF SPCA. She told me that the Puppy Dog Tales Reading program has teams at over 20 locations and that educators are describing results that include “increased enjoyment of reading, quicker improvement in cadence, increased motivation to try sounding out unfamiliar words, reduced anxiety” among others.
Canines are also helping to reduce anxiety in soldiers with PTSD. An article in the New York Times describes a 25 year-old Iraq war veteran who was able to cut his anxiety and sleep medication in half, weeks after getting a dog. The story also mentions that the government is spending money on research looking into how canines might help soldiers.
Based in San Anselmo, the Pine Street Foundation is a non-profit charity with the mission of helping people with cancer through education and research. Dr. Michael McCulloch is their research director and contributor to a growing body of literature on canines and cancer detection, including his study of dogs that detected lung cancer in the breath of cancer sufferers with 99 percent accuracy.
In an e-mail to me, Dr. McCulloch shared that they, in partnership with Touradj Solouki, associate professor of chemistry at the University of Maine, are currently enrolling women with ovarian cancer for a federally-funded study of canine scent detection. They are also seeking women with endometriosis and polycystic ovarian syndrome as controls. Women who participate only need to provide a sample of exhaled breath and can enroll by visiting the clinical trial‘s or Pine Street Foundation‘s websites.
I have no misconceptions about my dog Bouncer having the potential to develop clinically useful skills. Heck, I’m happy when he goes long stretches without going pee-pee inside.
Bouncer showing how to enjoy the moment
But I do get the sense that Bouncer is a positive influence in our lives. Since we adopted him from Wonder Dog Rescue, Bouncer has been a reason to go on a walk and explore new city parks and dog-friendly spots in California. When I’m anxious, he can be soothing and sometimes remind me to not judge and be in the moment.
Posted By: Winston Chung MD (Email) | March 07 2011 at 11:30 AM
- Dogs detect diseases (danapress.typepad.com)