Therapy dogs are becoming more common in schools across the United States. Research has shown that the canine companions are able to reach children in ways that many humans cannot. Within a district, the dogs are used multiple ways in schools and classrooms. They may work in a special education class to ease the anxiety of students as they arrive and transition each morning. Speech pathologists can include them within therapy sessions because dogs are great listeners and do not judge. While reading to students, teachers may ask the therapy dogs to listen to the story as well. When students are reluctant to read to teachers or to their peers, they may not hesitate to read to a friendly animal.
Therapy dogs are specially trained to help within schools and their community. They create a comfortable environment with their presence and put children at ease. Not only can dogs be used to help an individual child during a crisis or emergency, they may be beneficial to the larger community. This was recently seen in Orlando, Florida after the tragedy at Pulse nightclub. Therapy dogs were flown into Orlando to comfort survivors of the horrific event. The dogs that were sent to Orlando typically work in their communities at hospitals, schools, and other locations. When a big event occurs, they come together to assist with victims that need their support.
Lutheran Church Charities worked on coordinating the dogs from all around the country to head to Florida. They were also on the scene in Sandy Hook shooting and Boston Marathon bombing to assist the survivors and families there. The comfort dogs spend time in hospitals with the individuals that are still recovering from their injuries. In addition to this, the dogs spend time with first responders that were on the scene the night of the shooting. The organization goes to areas where they are invited to help and do not charge anything for their service. When the program began in 2008 there were only four dogs. Now, the group has over 100 dogs in 23 states.
Just like when dogs work with kids in schools, they provide counseling to those in need after a traumatic community event. The dogs do not pass judgment on those injured and listen to them whenever they need them. The process of talking through the ordeal is the beginning of the healing process for those that lived through the unimaginable. Schools that incorporate dogs into occupational or physical therapy or in psychology sessions will want to think about taking an extra step to look into the possibility of their dogs helping in the event of a larger scale emergency.