St. Joseph's Home Animal Assisted Therapy Briefing

HOPE was invited by St Joseph's Home to speak about animal-assisted therapy. Fiona Foo, founder of HOPE Dog Rescue and trainer of Singapore's very first Hokkien therapy dog, Button, was the speaker at the event. Besides Fiona, some of our volunteers and doggy ambassador, Harper, attended the event. 

Animal-assisted therapy, as the name suggests, is a form of therapy that incorporates animals. It is believed, and backed by numerous studies, that animals make the best therapists! Studies have shown that interactions with animals reduce stress in people. Just playing with or petting animals increases the production of the stress-reducing hormone oxytocin, at the same time decreases the production of the stress hormone cortisol. Therapy dogs have been used in hospitals, hospices, nursing homes and special schools, helping with healing and rehabilitation by lifting the spirits of the people they meet at these places. 

While various types of animals can be used as therapy animals, dogs are the most common. Therapy dogs are not the same as service dogs. While the latter usually have all the characteristics of a therapy dog, their main purpose is to help humans with disabilities to navigate day-to-day life. Service dogs should not be interacted with while they are working as this may distract them from paying attention to their human's needs. Unlike service dogs, human interaction is encouraged with therapy dogs as they are there to increase the mental and emotional well-being of people other than their handlers. 

That's our little Harper 

While therapy dogs do not require as much training as service dogs, not all dogs are suited to be therapy dogs. Because these dogs are expected to interact with many people who may not know how to interact correctly with dogs, they need to be of stable temperament, friendly and easy-going. They should also not be be excitable as too much excitement may not be good for some of the people they meet, so they should be of a calm disposition. The owner, and handler, of therapy dogs also play a big part as they would be the ones to facilitate the introduction between animal and human.

The talk at St Joseph's Home was to kick-off the animal-assisted therapy program at the home. Come 7 July, we will have our first therapy session at the home. This will be an ongoing program and sessions will take place every first Saturday of the month. Harper will accompany us on these visits as training to see if she is suited to be a therapy dog. 

Written by : Sam