Irish Therapy Dogs sets tails wagging

Pictured: Magic, the cocker-spaniel, warming the hearts of all who he visits.

Pictured: Magic, the cocker-spaniel, warming the hearts of all who he visits.

There appears to be increasing research pointing to the health benefits that your pet pooch can provide. Apart from the obvious calories burned from walking the woolly woofer, it seems the mere presence of your four legged friend is enough to calm the fastest of pulses.

Furthermore, studies at St. Louis University medical school have found that patients who spend as little as 30 minutes per week interacting with a therapy dog are significantly less lonely after only six weeks.

This is something that comes as no surprise to Brenda Rickard, chief executive at Irish Therapy Dogs, a charity based on Merrion Road in Dublin 4. The organisation, founded in 2008, is growing in leaps and bounds, with some 250 volunteers nationwide, and 50 new applications waiting to be processed.

NewsFour dropped in to meet Brenda and her pet cocker-spaniel, Magic, for a quick update on how things are progressing.

“We’re made up of unpaid volunteers who use our own dogs for the visits,” said Rickard. “We receive no government aid and rely completely on our own fundraising efforts.”

Following a detailed initial assessment of both dog and owner which includes garda vetting, both parties are matched with a care centre in their area for a weekly one-hour visit. The idea is that over time, the dog will become a friendly face that encourages interaction, their owner will make some new friends, and of course the patients will benefit from an overall sense of wellbeing.

Care centres include organisations that cater for the sick, elderly, and those with intellectual disabilities, such as St. Patrick’s, St. John of Gods and Stewart’s hospitals. “We’ve had some amazing reactions”, continued Rickard. “People with Alzheimer’s remembering the names of the dogs, the time of the visit, people who don’t usually connect with other patients coming out of their rooms.”

And with some 300 care centres waiting to get on their books, it seems Irish Therapy Dogs is going from strength to strength. Those interested in getting involved can visit their website to either volunteer or make a donation. And if you want to see them in person, check out their stand at Pet Expo on October, 15th and 16th in the RDS.

By Paul O’Rourke