The undercover therapy dogs

I recently finished a marvelous book about depression — The Noonday Demon, by Andrew Solomon. I don’t personally struggle with depression, but I have friends and family members who do, and it was an insightful and thought-provoking perspective into this widespread and insidious illness.

Ladylike hand licks

As I was reading, I was struck by a particular thing, a dog-related thing. Solomon covers the history and various treatments of depression, but he also spends a large portion of time interviewing people who struggle with depression. In the midst of many of their dark stories, I was struck by one recurring factor. Several people said that, in down times, nothing could get them out of bed — except their pets. Their family members, their spouses, their jobs, even their children were not motivating or comforting, but their dogs and cats alone provided a measure of sanity and connection with reality.

Solomon doesn’t address this at all in the book, but the fact that it kept coming up obliquely — the sole comforts of a companion animal — in these anecdotes stood out to me.

Therapy dogs, obviously, do important and specific work, for which they have been extremely well trained. But what about the rest of the dogs, the ones that live in our homes and chew up our shoes? I posit there’s a reason that humankind keeps adopting dogs as household pets, even though there’s not a lot of cold, hard rationale not to (dogs are messy, expensive, troublesome, liabilities, parasites, etc.). It’s because dogs offer us an emotional bond that we can’t find in humans. I was so struck by the repeated mention of how these normal dogs, unlicensed non-therapy dogs, helped these people with depression, in quiet, ordinary ways.

In our own home, I think about the emotional bond that I’ve developed with Pyrrha and Eden. I love them both endlessly, but I feel differently about them and about their emotional strengths. Pyrrha is my nursemaid when I’m sick or down; she is very sensitive to my moods (and on the flip side can be very weighed down by them). Eden, however, is the buoyant class clown, bringing joy and energy into every situation. They are essential members of our family, and they are doing the good work of dogs: loving people in a way that they are uniquely equipped to do.

What do you think? Do you think your dogs do any “undercover” therapy work in your home?

Review: The Possibility Dogs

The Possibility Dogs: What a Handful of "Unadoptables" Taught Me About Service, Hope, and Healing
The Possibility Dogs

Since starting this blog and my foray into the World of Dogs two years ago, I have been struck by a particular reality again and again: We do a lot for dogs, but dogs do so much for us.

Nowhere is this truth more evident than in Susannah Charleson’s latest book, The Possibility Dogs.

In The Possibility Dogs, Charleson, a pilot and a search-and-rescue handler, recounts the many stories of dogs serving a more subtle purpose: dogs who act as psychiatric service dogs.

But even the phrase “psychiatric service dog” is relatively new. We’re all familiar with guide dogs for the blind and even therapy dogs who visit hospitals or nursing homes or schools. But a psychiatric service dog? What does that even mean?

Charleson shows us what it means with her truthful and sincere accounts of rescue dogs who showed great potential to serve as daily companions and aides to those with less recognizable issues, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD), anxiety attacks, and so on. She works to evaluate rescue dogs who show potential to serve as service dogs for people with a wide range of issues.

Particularly moving is Charleson’s own account of her rescue Jake (the pup shown on the cover; more about him here). Jake was found as an abandoned and starving puppy near Charleson’s home. But through her careful attention and love (and the love shown from Charleson’s other dogs, particularly her golden retriever, Puzzle, who acted as a surrogate mother), the puppy began to grow and thrive — and show remarkable potential for service work. Jake was so clearly motivated to work with and near people. Today, he serves alongside Charleson, who uses him as a “demo dog” for her new nonprofit and for herself, as she has personally suffered symptoms of OCD and debilitating arthritis.

I liked that this book wasn’t all sappy stories. Charleson is a clear, controlled writer, and she plainly shares the ups and downs, both of her own experience and the experiences of others. These service dogs aren’t perfect, and living with and training them isn’t necessarily easy. But is it rewarding? Always.

As briefly mentioned above, Charleson has now also started an organization by the same name as her book, which aims to rescue and train dogs that show aptitude for service work and to serve as their public advocates. Be sure to check out the Possibility Dogs website for more information.

In short, I enjoyed the various narratives and success stories and the great, incomparable work that is being done by these dogs and by the people like Charleson who see so much potential in them. How heartening to be reminded of the enormous potential that exists in so many dogs, many of the dogs, perhaps, whose lonely faces greet ours in countless shelters and rescues. We have the ability to do so much for these dogs, and they clearly have the ability to do so much for us.

You can also follow Charleson on Twitter: @S_Charleson / Buy this book in hardcover or the Kindle version.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a review copy of this book by the publisher, but all expressed thoughts and opinions are exclusively my own.

Pup links!

Those ears! German shepherd pup on the beach. Click for source.

Dog-related links from around the Web this week:

People and Their Pets. I love this sweet and moving photo series by Stepan Obruchkov; I’ve pinned a lot of his images on my Dogs board on Pinterest. (Wolf Eyebrows)

To Pet or NOT to Pet. This is a really helpful and illustrative re-post about reading dogs’ body language; it would be great to show these photos to classrooms, particularly. But, actually, the more I think about it, the more I think your average person could benefit from discerning between these images. I’m constantly amazed at how poor we are at reading dogs’ body language and how many myths still persist about what dogs are trying to tell us. Great post. (Success Just Clicks)

Therapy Dogs Helping Seniors Live Longer. A feature on an assisted living facility in our area that welcomes therapy dogs; apparently it’s one of the only ones in our region that does. (Dog Days/Grouchy Puppy)

Puppy Breath, Take Me Away. Tales and Tails visits a socialization day for a new litter of fuzzy, heartbreakingly cute German shepherd puppies. Just because we can all use more puppy pictures on a daily basis. (Tales and Tails)

Green paws? The malinois is really getting into gardening these days. I just loved these photos; he looks like he is having such a good time. (Exercise Finished)

Review: In a Dog’s Heart

In a Dog's Heart.

Jennifer Arnold is the founder of Canine Assistants, a non-profit that trains and assigns therapy dogs for a variety of different uses. In a Dog’s Heart is her second book and was published in October 2011.

I hesitate to write a review here, because I found this book somewhat disappointing. Arnold is clearly a wonderful woman with a huge heart and lots of hands-on experience with dogs. She certainly knows a lot more than I do.

My reservation is that as a book, In a Dog’s Heart was not a successful project. It is essentially one woman’s collected ramblings about why she loves dogs. That is all well and good in itself, but it is not compelling or interesting. Perhaps it could have been reworked into something more memoir-like, resembling Caroline Knapp’s sweet book Pack of Two. Instead, Arnold’s book doesn’t seem to have any grounding frame of reference or context to give it much-needed structure.

I did appreciate Arnold’s thorough critique of Cesar Millan and the incredible damage he has done to dog training in America today. I enjoyed the heart-warming stories about the therapy dogs she’s trained, worked with, and assigned to people in need. However, I felt dismayed to read her hearty recommendation of dog food made by companies like Purina and Hill’s Science Diet, long known for creating chemically-laden refuse that is patently terrible for dogs. I also thought it was kind of silly that she believed so strongly in puppy temperament testing, something we’ve known for a while is not any reliable indicator of an adult dog’s temperament.

The book’s lack of organization–or a discernible point–is a crippling element. The chapters are haphazardly arranged and filled with all sorts of random thoughts. I almost felt like she just sat down with a legal pad and just wrote down all of the things she knew about dogs and then decided to structure her book that way. Essentially, I’m not sure what this book was trying to accomplish. Is it a behavioral guide? Is it a training manual? Is it a memoir? I don’t think it really knew either.

Arnold is very well-meaning and has done so much good for so many people and dogs. For that, she should be praised and applauded. But this book? Not a keeper.

Pup links!

The collies are listening. Click for source.

The big news of the day is that we have now officially submitted our applications to the Virginia German Shepherd Rescue and Southeast German Shepherd Rescue! Even though we won’t move until May, I wanted to go ahead and send our applications so the vetting and approval process could get underway. It goes without saying that I am so excited.

Here are some dog-related links from around the web this past week:

Social Dominance Is Not a Myth: Wolves, Dogs, and Other Animals. Marc Bekoff addresses the other side of the dominance coin and points out that we shouldn’t throw it out entirely. Wolves do exhibit dominance and the research is perhaps more nuanced than we formerly thought. Interesting. (The Bark Blog)

Sidetracked by Grammar. As a copy editor and a dog lover, I definitely appreciated this vet’s list of grammatical pet peeves. The one that really gets under my skin? People who write about “German shepards.” Nope. Not a thing. Learn how to spell. (Pawcurious)

Pocket Petunia’s Big Adventure. A sweet post about therapy dogs visiting a local school and teaching kids about kindness and mercy toward others. (Love and a Six-Foot Leash)

Color-Coded Dogs. Fun photos of dogs playing in groups arranged by fur color. (Ours for a Year)

Canine Pregnancy Detector. Dogs really can smell everything… (Fido & Wino)

Day Twenty-One. A little girl and her dog: Big frown and then a big laugh! (Emily Corey Photography)

Pup links!

A young Elizabeth Taylor holds court with three dogs. Source: LIFE Magazine.

I was very flattered this past week to receive a mention in the “You Are an Inspiration Awards” from Pamela at Something Wagging. I’ve been so encouraged by Pamela’s blog since I started my dog research, and I look forward to continuing to follow hers and Honey’s adventures.

That said, here are some great dog-related links from around the Web this week:

Therapy Dogs: Born or Made? Patricia McConnell reflects on the qualities a great therapy dog should possess and discusses the age-old question of nature vs. nurture. Basically, if you have a calm, perhaps older golden retriever, your dog should be doing therapy. Bo and Dally would be IDEAL candidates, maybe when they’re older. Goldens were just made for this stuff. (The Other End of the Leash)

My Favorite Dog Training Books. Crystal lists some of her favorite training manuals. I need to read some of these myself! (Reactive Champion)

An Uphill Battle: Tartar in a Kibble-Fed Dog. Stephanie, the Biologist, discusses the problems of tartar buildup in her kibble-fed dog and debunks the popular myth that kibble cleans dogs’ teeth. (Musings of a Biologist and Dog Lover)

Hallmarks of Quality Dog Food. A list of ingredients to look for (and avoid) when shopping for kibble. (Whole Dog Journal)

Thoughts on Punishment. Reflecting on moving beyond basic punishment paradigms in training. (Save the Pit Bull, Save the World)

Your 2012 Fitness Plan for You and Your Dog. A practical and motivational guide to getting you and your dog in shape for the new year. A dog is such a great motivator for me to get outside and move! (Pretty Fluffy)

Comparing Bergan and Kurgo Dog Harnesses. The most widely traveled dogs give their reviews of two car harnesses. I’ve thought about getting something like this for our future dog. How does your dog travel in the car? (Take Paws)

One Big Dog on a Little, Kitty Bed. I love it when dogs (and cats!) mix up their beds. It’s always funny. (That Mutt)

Indigo: The Hockey-Loving Dog. This focused border collie reminds me of Emma, my childhood Aussie, who was fixated whenever we played hockey on the cul-de-sac. We kind of drove her crazy. It’s torture for a herding dog to watch such a game and not be allowed to get out there and HERD! (Shirley Bittner)

The Dog. My dear friend Rachel writes about her dog Cider‘s displays of devotion when she comes home. So sweet! (Mixed with Gold)