Man’s best friend (and everyone else’s)
Winston is one busy dog.
The 8-year-old long haired dachshund and his owner, Nancye Dawley of Yarmouth Port, have made more than 300 visits across Cape Cod, from elementary schools to adult day care centers with one main purpose: to lift spirits.
“When Winston arrives, everyone is so excited and happy to see him. There are instant smiles on everyone’s faces,” said Dawley, part of the volunteer Cape Cod Therapy Dog Program. “To be able to spend time touching him. They don’t remember our names, but they do the dogs’.”
Many of Winston’s visits are in conjunction with the hospice program of the Visiting Nurse Association of Cape Cod. “Winston will lie on the bed so a patient can stroke his fur and feel him cuddling. It’s not going to cure her, but it brings great peace and contentment,” Dawley said.
The team of pet therapy dogs—who undergo scrupulous screening and more than a year of pet therapy training—also open up new worlds for elementary school children with developmental and other challenges.
Nancye & Winston
Dawley recalled one young boy Winston visited in the classroom. “He was so withdrawn. He hardly could look at us. He never talked. After a few visits, we watched an amazing transformation.
“As soon as Winston and his pet friends arrived, he would come to life,” she said. “Soon, he not only was playing with the dogs, but he began talking with us.
Other classmates would lie down on the floor and just place their heads on the bigger dogs, especially the bigger golden retrievers. “Winston, on the other hand, would end up on their laps,” Dawley laughed.
“It all revolves around treating the dog the same way you would treat a person, especially a friend or family member. You must be very understanding of the dog. Some dogs have days when they don’t want to be petted or bothered. Their bad day is just like your bad day,” Dawley said. ”In this way, the children begin to understand how their behavior may affect others around them.”
Winston’s experiences reinforce growing medical research demonstrating that pet dogs are good for your health, no matter what your age.
Most recently, a study cited by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found a strong correlation between pet dogs and reduced stress levels among 4- to 10-years-olds. Of those children with dogs, 12 percent suffered anxiety; those without dogs, 21 percent.
Time with dogs also has been used as a powerful motivator to help autistic and intellectually disabled children learn and develop new skills, interact with the world around them and try new things.
Researchers have long believed in the power of dogs to promote wellbeing in adults of all ages.
A study released by the American Heart Association found that male dog owners were significantly less likely to die within one year after a heart attack than those who did not own a dog.
Another study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology compared pet owners to non-pet owners and concluded that pet owners had greater self-esteem, were more physically fit, more extroverted, less fearful, less preoccupied and less lonely.
“When we arrive at a nursing home, we may be met with upwards of 30 residents and they light up. It’s so special to watch them laugh, reach out, want to pet the dogs,” said Dawley.
“I remember one person who was under 24-hour care. When we first visited with Winston, she almost cried to see the dog. She loved having him on the bed with her. We gave her a picture of Winston framed so she could have him right by her side. She very much touched my soul.”