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What dogs can do: How our canine companions help us cope and heal

by Sojos | January 02, 2013

In the days since the shooting in Newtown, Conn., the affected community - and the nation - have been reeling with grief. In the face of such a senseless tragedy, we all mourn together. Finding a sense of connection and love is incredibly important, and many people believe that dogs can help suffering people do just that.

After the Sandy Hook shooting, one group, Lutheran Church Charities, based in Addison, Ill., set out to Newtown with a team of 10 “comfort dogs” to ease the anguish of kids and adults alike. In the following days, even more dogs were brought in to comfort those struggling to cope with the event. Photos of Newtown residents interacting with the dogs continue to circulate in the news, grabbing headlines - and undoubtedly striking a chord with every dog owner who saw them.

To share your home and life with a dog is to know just how comforting the presence of these animals can be, whether you’re facing minor or major stresses. And it’s not just experience that bears this out - numerous studies show that interaction with dogs can have therapeutic effects, from reducing stress to lowering blood pressure. Researchers have studied everything from how dogs can affect workplace stress to how they can help AIDS patients. There’s even a Research Center for Animal-Human Interaction at the University of Missouri’s College of Veterinary Medicine that focuses on the expanding field of research about pets and people.

A few funeral homes around the country have recognized the calming, comforting effect dogs can have on those in mourning and have taken the step of having a specially-trained dog on site. And a number of organizations also bring therapy dogs to senior homes, schools and more. One organization, Dogs Building Opportunities for Nurturing and Emotional Support (Dog B.O.N.E.S.), was part of an initiative at Massachusetts Institute of Technology called “Cookies and Canines,” designed to help students deal with the stress of finals. Numerous other colleges have held similar stress-reducing events with dogs.

The unconditional friendship and love we share with our dogs can provide a refuge during the most difficult times of life. Whether you curl up on the couch together, go for a quiet walk or simply pet him for a while, find time to decompress with your dog by your side during the holiday season - and all year long.