It is well-known that dogs, and other pets, can help lower your blood pressure, encourage recovery from heart disease and create a general sense of positive self-esteem. Several people are testing out these theories by using animals as therapists.
For example, the Paws for Purple Hearts program is being piloted at the VA in Palo Alto, CA. This program is helping returning veterans heal from psychological wounds by making them responsible for training service dogs. These dogs will then serve other veterans with combat-related injuries. Psychiatrists believe that the veterans who train the dogs are receiving positive reinforcement from eager-to-please Golden Retrievers in the form of licks and nudges. This positive reinforcement then helps boost the self-esteem of the veterans that has been shattered by combat experiences.
Another program is taking place at the Harvard Medical School library. A Shih-Tzu named Cooper is the resident therapy dog. Anyone can essentially check him out by visiting him in his office in 30 minute increments. Cooper’s office is equipped with chew toys, food, water and his bed. Cooper’s very calm demeanor helps reduce anxiety in the “patients” who come to him for comfort, a good cry, or a game of tug-of-war.