All pet owners know the benefits our furry friends provide us, and research has shown that there are clear health benefits to having a pet. But those benefits can be extended beyond the dog’s owner. We have all had the experience of walking our dog and noticing someone’s face light up the minute they see our pet approaching. It might be a small child eager to come pet the dog or another adult admiring him. Irish Therapy Dogs have been bringing the benefits of canine company out to the community to help people in a wide range of care centre settings for ten years now. As they celebrate this anniversary milestone, it’s a great time to learn more about the organisation and how they help others. Connolly’s RED MILLS has been involved since the organisation’s founding a decade ago.
Irish Therapy Dogs brings Visiting Teams – human and canine – into many types of Care Centres where people are living for short or long periods such as Nursing Homes, Mental Health Facilities, Hospices, Day Centres and Schools. The benefits of their visits are enhanced by residents having the opportunity to get to know individual dogs, so the same team will visit the same centre on a consistent weekly schedule. While some residents are instantly charmed by the visiting dogs, others might need to see them a few times before they warm up to them. The Visiting Teams spend time with each resident individually, which also ensures they are not overwhelmed. Even something as simple as petting or talking to a dog can provide great benefit.
“We go very individually to each person,” explained Brenda Rickard, Chief Executive of Irish Therapy Dogs. “That’s very important. We give everyone their moment. When they get to know each other, they feel very relaxed. And when they feel relaxed, they open up. That’s the beauty of what we do.”
Dogs Helping Children to Learn
Irish Therapy Dogs also go into schools. Of course, most children naturally love dogs, but these visits have a serious purpose. Actually, they have a few different serious purposes. For some children, school is extremely stressful and just being in a classroom is a challenge. A dog can help children with anxiety, autism and other challenges relax in the school setting so they can learn and enjoy their school day more.
The visiting dogs also help children learn to read. The volunteers involved in the Reading Program must have a teaching background. They can build a child’s confidence because they are uncritical listeners. Children read to the dogs in this programme, and both seem to love it. These teams also visit schools on a weekly basis.
“The dogs give the children encouragement and make them feel at ease. They are non-judgemental which is enormous help if a child is struggling”, Brenda says.
That is definitely something parents can try at home! Dogs are an appreciative audience, and children as well as adults can share their worries knowing their pet won’t gossip or think less of them.
Children & Dogs: An Unbeatable Combo
Children and dogs have a natural bond, and together they are quite a team. That’s why Connolly RED MILLS is a proud sponsor of Irish Therapy Dog’s Junior Members. Children of all ages are involved in Irish Therapy Dogs’ work, visiting Care Centres with dogs. They accompany the adult teams, and are always supervised. The youngsters don’t have control of the dogs; the adult team members do.
The Junior Members programme also offers opportunities and benefits to the young volunteers. Of course, they get to see first-hand what therapeutic contact with dogs is and they learn so much by watching the adult volunteers. But they also get to enjoy special outings such as courses on dog grooming and visits to the airport to learn about the trained sniffer dogs working there. Children are an important part of the group’s awareness days. Irish Therapy Dogs interviews children to ensure they are genuinely interested and willing to commit. Parents might think it sounds like a great activity, but that isn’t enough.
“The child has to want to do it,” said Brenda. “You cannot have children who are not interested. There is no point. They need to have a love of animals, know what we do and want to do it.”
These young people can give us all confidence for the future with their compassion and willingness to commit to helping others. William Connolly was on hand to award Catherine Caddell the Junior of the Year Award at the recent anniversary celebrations.
If You Are Interested in Joining…
Irish Therapy Dogs are always looking for new volunteers to join their teams, but volunteers need to be able to make a serious, long-term commitment. Because the core of the work is regular visits to the same people, it is important that volunteers can commit to showing up at the same time each week for a one-hour visit.
Volunteers must be at least 18 years of age (unless they are junior members of course). They need to have a caring and friendly manner. Confidentiality is critical, so volunteers must understand that they should not identify who they visit and should handle all aspects of their visits with discretion. The volunteer application process takes about a month and includes Garda vetting.
The dogs also have a few requirements to meet. They must be more than one year old, house trained, well-groomed, vaccinated and be preventatively treated for parasites. Irish Therapy Dogs cannot work with restricted breeds (American Pit Bull Terriers, Alsatians/ German Shepherds, Bull Mastiffs, English Bull Dogs, Doberman Pinschers, Japanese Akitas, Japanese Tosas, Rhodesian Ridgeback, Rottweiler, Staffordshire Bull Terrier or any cross breed of any of these breeds.) Dogs should also be sociable, friendly, calm, gentle and confident. This is a lot of fun for dogs who enjoy attention and pets from new people.
Could your dog bring comfort and joy to people in Care Centres?
Would you with your dog like to Volunteer for this valuable work?
Would you like one of our Volunteer/Dog Teams to visit your Care Centre?
You can download an application form from the Irish Therapy Dog website: www.irishtherapydogs.ie
- Irish therapy Dogs