Dogs offer healing paw to people with psychiatric disorders
Penny Nichols, an independent dog trainer and founder of therapeutic team training nonprofit Creatures and Kids, Inc., based in Edmond, said her team can determine whether a dog has the right stuff to become a psychiatric therapy dog.
When a brain tumor took a boxer named Boz away from Dr. Philip Mosca in 2009, his grieving turned into depression. He didn't want another dog. No substitute best friend for him.
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AT A GLANCE
Learn about service animalsA workshop on psychiatric service animals is from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday, July 15 and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, July 16 at Integris Baptist Medical Center auditorium, 3300 NW Expressway. Personal pets are not allowed. The $25 registration fee covers both dates, plus snacks. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or www.creaturesandkids.org, click on events, or call 478-8550.
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He was almost a spitting image of Boz.
Mosca soon took Spike home, and the two began training to attain their therapeutic team certification, just as he and Boz had done.
Now, Spike joins Mosca each day at his urology office on the Integris Southwest Medical Center campus.
Three days a week, the two volunteers visit patients at Integris Jim Thorpe Rehabilitation. After asking patients if they would like to pet the dog, Mosca lets Spike place his paws on the patient's knee or hospital bed so the patient can hug and pet the boxer.
Remarkable transformations happen. One man had been picking at the air, yelling and tossing around in his bed when his son asked Mosca if Spike might help the irate man.
Within minutes, the man calmed down. The son later emailed Mosca saying, “I was convinced he was going to lose his mind until the dog came in.”
Service animals long have helped people with physical impairments, but now mental health clinicians are recommending patients supplement their treatment with the help of psychiatric service dogs.
“Even though a psychiatric service dog may calm a person down, keep them out of certain places ... they have to be specifically trained. They have to be able to key on whatever the person's disability needs are,” Mosca said.
“The exciting part about the therapeutic side is there are a lot of people who can't afford a $30,000 service dog or a $70,000 service animal, in the case of the paraplegic. So by using the therapeutic team, they can come in and help without a 24-7 presence.”
Penny Nichols, an independent dog trainer and founder of therapeutic team training nonprofit Creatures and Kids, Inc., based in Edmond, said her team can determine whether a dog has the right stuff.
“They also have to endure medical equipment, clumsy petting, yelling,” she said.
Dogs paired with those with psychiatric disorders may stand up and put their paws on the person's shoulders when they sense the person's anxiety, for example.
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