Therapy dogs can do some pretty amazing things. They come in all shapes, sizes, and breeds, and help people of all types, in a myriad of different ways. To celebrate this year's Dog Therapy Appreciation Day, here are seven heartwarming stories of therapy dogs doing what they do best.
1. Colonel the Golden Retriever
When a young boy named Caleb ended up in a serious car accident, he broke bones in his leg and arm, as well as suffering serious brain damage. His condition was so serious, in the beginning his father and grandmother didn’t even know if he’d survive, much less regain his faculties. Recovery was a long and slow process. But then Caleb was introduced to a golden retriever named Colonel.
With Colonel’s help, the change in Caleb was immediate. Whenever Colonel was in the room, the boy would be more alert. His eyes would light up, and he would do more and go further in his therapy than what was expected of him. With Colonel’s help, Caleb was able to heal and recover, and ultimately regain a normal life.
2. Hector the Pit Bull
Hector’s life didn’t start out so well. He spent two years as part of a dog fighting ring, run by former NFL player Michael Vick. You’d think that after an experience like that, he’d have a hard time trusting humans, or being around them. But after being rescued, he was adopted by a couple in Minnesota, who trained him to pass the Canine Good Citizen test and become a therapy dog.
He would visit patients in hospitals and nursing homes, and even go to schools, to teach children how to be safe around dogs.
Pit bulls tend to have a bad reputation, but it’s entirely undeserved. Hector is proof that it’s not about the breed of the dog, but how you treat it that dictates how it treats you. After being rescued by love, Hector spent seven years spreading that love to others, touching the lives of everyone he met, both at work and at home.
3. Spartacus the Akita
When a shooter killed 27 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the children were obviously traumatized. Samantha Kuric, in particular, had a hard time even leaving the house in the aftermath of the tragedy. But then when her mother brought her to a school for comfort and therapy dogs, Sammy met Spartacus, and they bonded immediately.
After just a couple of hours together, Sammy seemed worlds better. The dog’s handler, Brad, asked if he could take him to help some other people. Samantha agreed—but Spartacus didn’t want to leave her!
In the years since, Spartacus has gone on to help a number of other trauma victims, but he and Sammy have retained their bond and remain good friends. He’s made her feel safe in troubling times and helped to heal her emotional scars over time in a way that would have been much more difficult without him.
Spartacus’ impact, as well as that of other therapy dogs after the tragedy, inspired a Connecticut state law requiring that all crisis victims be given access to certified dogs within 24 hours of a tragedy.
4. Duke the Rottweiler
Duke had to overcome some unusual problems in order to obtain his therapy certification. In training most therapy dogs, good behavior is rewarded with treats. But Duke suffered from Irritable Bowel Syndrome and an undersized liver, for which he was on a special restricted diet.
Because of these restrictions, rather than taking the dog to a traditional training facility, Duke’s owner, Shiloh, undertook his training herself, creating a special regimen to accommodate his health issues. Eventually, she was able to get him certified, and Duke joined the Love on a Leash therapy dog program. Duke and Shiloh now help everyone from veterans to people with mental disabilities to children learning to read.
Much like Pit Bulls, there can be a stigma against Rottweilers, but Duke has a knack for putting patients at ease and giving them the comfort they need in any situation.
5. Lexy the German Shepherd
War is hell. Many soldiers suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, along with other mental health issues that cause serious emotional damage. However, soldiers are also meant to be strong and resilient, which makes many of them reluctant to admit when they’re having a problem or to seek the help they need. That’s where Lexy comes in.
Lexy lives at Fort Bragg, where she gives comfort to soldiers during therapy sessions. Her handler, Major Christine Rumayor, a psychiatrist at the fort, originally wanted to train the German Shepherd as a guard dog. But she quickly realized that Lexy preferred to cuddle.
Lexy has since become a fixture at Fort Bragg, and even holds the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. Her presence during Rumayor’s therapy sessions allows soldiers to relax and open up more. She also wanders around the base to meet the soldiers in their element and chat with them. The promise of seeing and petting Lexy has helped a number of soldiers who otherwise felt uncomfortable in therapy, to continue keeping their appointments and get the help they need.
6. Xander the Pug
When Xander was just a puppy, an accident made him blind. But that hasn’t slowed him down in the slightest. An exuberant pug, full of life and personality, Xander passed his certification exams with flying colors. Now, he specializes in helping children who have been victims of abuse.
The children love Xander, and his calm, outgoing nature is a comfort to those who have been through a difficult ordeal. Some of the children are afraid of dogs, but Xander proves the perfect subject to change their minds. Easy to love and loving to others, he helps to spread messages of comfort and anti-violence wherever he goes.
7. Spirit the Mutt
As we’ve already seen, often it’s the dogs that were abused themselves that show the most love and compassion for others. That’s certainly true of Spirit. A mixed-breed rescue, Spirit had been abused and hurt in his early days, before Linda Koebner found him at a pound in Louisiana and brought him home.
After getting him certified as a therapy dog, Koebner arranged to start bringing Spirit to Montefiore Medical Center, in the Bronx. He’s since become a well-known fixture of the hospital, greeting patients in the hallways and coming to their rooms to cuddle. He even poses for pictures with them from time to time.
Many of the patients who Spirit visits are either in severe pain or dying. Spending time with him has helped those with chronic illnesses to forget their pain for a while. He provides them with the love and comfort they need to get them through difficult situations, and gives hope to those who otherwise might not have much of it.
There are hundreds of other stories of therapy dogs of all types, helping people with all sorts of different problems all over the world. They provide unconditional love and support in many situations, comforting those who suffer both physically and mentally, and providing them with the peace they need to get through whatever they may be facing. Dogs truly are man’s best friend!