Therapy dogs putting smiles on hospital patients' faces

Header image for the article Therapy dogs putting smiles on hospital patients' faces Credit: IAN INDIANO
Personal support dogs provide many benefits, like allowing people to live comfortably, knowing if they have difficulty in public, they have the support of their dog.

Therapy and personal support dogs are becoming more frequent to help people deal with struggles in their life. They provide many benefits, like allowing people to live comfortably, knowing if they have difficulty in public, they have the support of their dog. But, the cost can be hefty. Personal support dogs can cost upwards of $25,000 after training, veterinary bills, basic necessities, and food costs. These costs can be a struggle for many people looking to get a personal support dog. But, there are some therapy dogs that people can benefit from, free of charge.

Tracey Silverthorn has two trained therapy dogs as part of the St. John Ambulance Therapy Dog Program. She takes her pugs, Zombie Pug and Crowley Puggy, into hospitals to visit patients and lift their spirits. Before Zombie and Crowley, she had a therapy dog named Igor. Silverthorn and Igor were the first team to visit the Children’s Hospital.

“These dogs go through pretty rigorous testing to become therapy dogs to start with,” said Silverthorn. “They have to be at least one year old because the maturity level generally isn’t there until a year old. Then they have to do 40 visits with adults before they can go back and be child tested and read tested, which means they can sit quiet enough for kids to read books to them.”

Silverthorn added that she gets started with obedience training at a young age with all of her pugs, so they all get tested at one year-old to become a therapy dog.

Zombie is already licensed, but Crowley is still in training, as he is not old enough yet. However, since the pandemic hit, neither pups have been able to go into the hospitals. All visits have been done virtually, which means the unlicensed Crowley still gets to participate.

“To a certain degree, the online therapy dog stuff has actually been really interesting for the patients,” said Silverthorn. “Normally, I’m going into their room. This has opened it up so they can see how we live. There’s one lady that I think it’s going on like, eight years that I’ve been doing this with her. You build a bond, but they don’t know enough about your life. With the iPad, they get to see the dog collars in the spare room, they get to see the garden, where the dogs live.”

Having therapy dogs isn’t only beneficial for the patients they go and visit; Silverthorn also gets joy from making people happy.

“I was at Costco one day, and I feel [tapping] on my hip. And I look down at this kid, and Mom’s going, ‘Oh, I’m so sorry.’ The kid is looking at me going, ‘Do you remember me?’ He says, ‘you brought your pugs in to see me! I’m all better now!’ This is so why I do what I do,” Silverthorn said.

Therapy dogs provide the emotional support that many people benefit from. Whether it be patients in the hospital or people struggling with mental health. But owners of therapy dogs also get a feeling of pride and accomplishment when their dogs can make someone’s day.