My Personal Pooch's Role as a Pet Assisted Therapy Dog
Having a dog with a potentially limited lifespan motivated me to maximize his cuteness to benefit the well-being of others. For those of you not familiar with my dog’s story, Cardiff has Immune Mediated Hemolytic Anemia (IMHA), a typically fatal disease where the immune system is triggered to destroy the body’s red blood cells (learn more via this petMD article: Anemia Related to the Immune System in Dogs). Fortunately for us both, Cardiff has overcome three episodes of IMHA in his seven years of life and has been symptom free since 2009.
Cardiff’s disease is well managed through integration of traditional Chinese veterinary medicine (TCVM) and western (conventional) treatments. Yes, I'm Cardiff's primary vet, but a team of internal medicine specialists and veterinary geneticists have contributed to his disease management. As his IMHA is well controlled, you would never suspect Cardiff has been so sick if you were unaware of his history. With his normal blood tests, exuberant energy, athletic body condition, great appetite, perfect digestion, and complete lack of an apparent clinical disease (allergies, arthritic pain, etc.), he is truly the picture of health.
When he became healthy enough to be around others in a service capacity, I had Cardiff certified for emotional support work with Actors and Others for Animals (AOFA). Their Pet Assisted Therapy program put Cardiff through a variety of behavioral based tests to ensure he was an appropriate choice to spend time around the ill and elderly.
Cardiff had to be able to withstand the attempted reach of a person seeking to touch his ears, paws, and other body parts without acting aggressively, even towards those who provoked him. Additionally, he had to not cower in fear of the potential terror created by a walker coming in his direction, nor to the sounds generated by a metal spoon banging loudly on a cookie sheet (that might otherwise startle a non-working dog). Cardiff actually sailed through these tests with flying colors and soon received a placard featuring his friendly-faced image and stating "Pet Assisted Therapy Dog Cardiff" that he now wears attached to his harness.
I chose to get Cardiff involved with the AOFA program because I believe in their cause of providing low-cost spay and neuter services for pet owners who strive to responsibly care for their canine or feline companion but suffer financial hardship. Additionally, AOFA was very permissive in providing a Pet Assisted Therapy schedule that worked with my free time from clinical practice. Regardless of the frequency with which we are available (be it often or occasional), I can take Cardiff to a hospital or nursing home to help brighten the day of those in need of some cheer.
Our experiences doing Pet Assisted Therapy with AOFA has been very positive. It’s great to see the effect Cardiff’s presence has on those who are suffering from illness or injury. Upon seeing Cardiff strut into their rooms, many patients share their recollections of having a dog or other pet at some point during their lives. I’ve experienced such stories from people who otherwise have barely spoken for extended periods of time. They seemingly feel more alive, or at least feel better, while recalling their experiences with their personal pets.
I get satisfaction knowing that Cardiff's cuteness makes a difference in the lives of others. Additionally, I get to share his tale of overcoming illness with people who may need some inspiration to continue to wage their own emotional and physical health battles. Cardiff's journey from sickness to heath, along with his canine perspective on current events, useful products, doggy style, and travel, is also told through his blog; appropriately titled, Cardiff’s blog.
Dr. Patrick Mahaney
Image: Cardiff, the Pet Assisted Therapy Dog