In the last twenty years or so, assistance dogs have been recognized for helping physically challenged people. More recently, Therapy dogs are becoming better known in the health care industry.
I am sure many people have heard wonderful stories of pets visiting nursing homes and hospitals to visit patients. It is well known that the residents of nursing homes benefit emotionally as well as physically from dogs, cats and other animals visiting. Therapeutic results are represented in the client's willingness to participate, knowing an animal will be present. The idea that an animal also reminds the client of when they lived in their own home is significant.
Thames Center Service Dogs (www.thamescentreservicedogs.com) has taken Animal Assisted Therapy a step further by training Psychiatric Service Dogs. These dogs are trained in specifically oriented tasks, geared towards assisting clients with diagnoses of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Operational Stress Injury. Service Dogs are also trained for clientele with Brain Injury and Neurological deficit or disease. Some of our clients are Veterans returning from Afghanistan, and we look forward to continuing this relationship. While most understand that the diagnosis of a psychiatric illness is often difficult to understand personally as well as socially, clients at the Center are met with compassion and patience. The service dogs are simply identified as medical service dogs, with no psychiatric indicators whatsoever. Societal judgment is often a serious concern for clients, yet this is not an issue with these service dogs. Service dogs can significantly lessen the need for hospitalization, less medication and community service involvement.
The service dogs perform a wide variety of tasks including Deep Pressure Therapy, Night Terror Response, Medication Reminder, Seizure Alert , just to name a few. It is amazing to realize that all the service dogs at Baker Dog Behavioral Center were once housed at O.S.P.C.A. Shelters around Ontario. Every single dog is rescued, as the Center does not believe in breeding dogs when so many are available at shelters. All dogs are temperament tested, health checked by a Veterinarian, and then receive at least six months intensive training. Once the training is complete, the dog must pass a public access test and personality testing before becoming certified and registered with the International Association of Assistance Dog Partners. The dogs are then matched with the appropriate client, with personalities being a key part of the process.
In order to qualify for a service dog, clients must provide a letter from a physician or mental health professional. We then arrange a time to meet with the client to receive all appropriate information and training requirements. Because our dogs are rescues, we can afford to charge a much lower fee for our services than most. Service dogs are not inexpensive however and therefore we attempt to lead the clients to agencies and organizations that can help with funding. We have also been actively involved in discussions with politicians in regards to government funding.
Thames Center Service Dogs maintains contact with all of their clients following service dog placement and also provide advocacy within the clients community. We can't imagine doing any other work, and will continue to provide well-trained companions to the psychiatric community. We also provide educational assistance therapy dogs to schools as well as privately for reading buddies. This is remedial reading program for children that allows for a non-judgmental atmosphere. Our dogs love to hear the stories too! We look forward to continuing our service for years to come.
Beth Baker, C.S.D.T.
Owner and Senior Trainer