Alumni of the Month November 2011 Victor the Therapy Dog

The history of “Therapy Dogs” in care facilities is relatively recent. Ten years ago, almost all care facilities forbade animals. Now almost half have pet therapy programs. What became popular in Europe spread to the United States in the 1980’s.  Victor

Once again Last Door was on the cutting edge of what seemed to us, a logical addition to a program described as homelike and that offered care. Last Door has had a series of “Door Dogs” dating back to Snowball on Carnarvon Street in the mid-80’s up to Victor, our current incarnation. In between were several furry friends, Max the pug and a second Max the amazing little bulldog. There have also been a few residents’ pets who, facing potential homelessness, were also temporary residents of Last Door.

In the early days of Last Door, and in fact for many years, each resident went through his written Step One orally in group. This was an amazing and sometimes arduous process for the whole group. The benefits and practicality of that process waned over time but an interesting piece emerged. Many recovering addicts who remember sadness, confusion and even despair and fear as children also recalled their childhood friends, the family dog.  This friend in troubled times was a source of compassion, comfort and the unconditional love. Guys described feeling comforted when sitting with, hugging and talking with their pets who in the end, were often on their masters’ amends lists having loyally suffered neglect and abuse during their masters’ addictions.

Dogs, because of their social natures, often genuinely like people and choose to be around them. Often, they are aware of illness and sadness and WANT to provide companionship and comfort; they are both intuitive and compassionate. It is always a joy to see them detect sorrow and watch them lick tears away.

An Australian Ph.D student conducted an 18 month controlled study of a dog’s impact on a nursing home in Brisbane, Australia. She investigated the perceived levels of confusion, depression, fatigue, tension, and vigor of ninety-five elderly residents at three nursing homes foll owing the introduction of a visiting dog, a resident dog and no dog. In the group visited by the dog, she found reduced levels of fatigue. In the group who had this same dog residing with them she found a decrease in anxiety, confusion, depression, fatigue, and tension. Two months after the dog was removed, the benefits remained. (Crowley-Robinson – Applied Animal Behaviour Science 47: 1996.)

Animals have long been recognized as being a positive force in the healing process. Dogs have acalming and therapeutic effect. They help people cope with the emotional issues related to their illness. They also offer physical contact with another living creature, something that is often missing. They always invoke pleasant memories of past pets. Best of all, they divert a person’s attention from the pressing problems of the day.

Everyone benefits from the mere presence of these canine health care providers, residents, visitors, and staff. When Therapy Dogs walk the floors of a long term facility, it is often a challenge to separate the furry, four-legged therapists from the staff so that they can perform their special magic upon the residents; that’s okay, because therapy dogs provide a much needed break from the routine and stresses of working in a long term facility environment.

While we cannot unequivocally state that Victor has loved all people at all times, we can definitely see his affect on the lives of the Door Boys. Invariably conversations with alumnus turn to Victor…how is he? Is he still there? There is always a story and some laughs around something Victor did when they were at the Door. And so….the “Victor stories” are a foundational piece of recovery at the Door. Despite the messes, the barking and running away and sometimes the biting, our Door dogs have, and still do play a steadfast, pivotal role in life and recovery at the Door.

We’re not big on “therapy” so let’s just say they are our Recovery dogs. Eventually, but hopefully not this year, Victor will pass as have Snowball and the “Maxes”.  His spirit will live on in our stories and the love and companion ship he has given so many guys seeking recovery.

From the Door Boys – Thanks Victor for being there!