Why Rescue Dogs Often Excel as Therapy Animals

Sunday is National Therapy Animal Day. Let’s celebrate by looking at rescue dogs who do this important work.

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Every single day, our dogs give so much of themselves. They bring us joy with their antics, keep us calm when the going gets tough, or get us outside to hike, run or just take in the fresh air. For some dogs, this natural altruism finds a perfect outlet in the Pet Partners therapy animal program, where they can volunteer alongside their human companion as a team, visiting people in need. Whether reading with children at a school or bringing peace to a hospice patient in their final hours, therapy animals (just like our pets) can be part of every stage of human life.

No two therapy animal teams are alike. Although connected by a spirit of service, each one chooses Pet Partners for their own unique reason. For many former shelter animals now registered as therapy animals, the inspiration to give back comes from getting a second chance at life with a home and family. The rescue dogs who volunteer with Pet Partners have overcome incredible obstacles: Some have lost a limb, others have been beaten or severely neglected. Still, if you talk to any one of their handlers, a pattern emerges. In spite of the different traumas these animals have experienced at the hands of human beings, they still love people fiercely.

Even after months, sometimes years of suffering, these dogs eagerly soak up all of the newfound joy in their lives and then promptly give it all away again. They might give their love to children at a bereavement center, as Bellin the Husky (pictured above) does; or to survivors of domestic violence, as Dexter the Pit Bull does. Regardless of what difficult journey might bring them to therapy animal work, what matters most is their enduring talent to lift the spirits of people wherever they go, many of whom may empathize with an abused animal who has endured trauma both emotional and physical.

This is why it is so important to acknowledge the important contributions that shelter animals make to therapy animal work. Contrary to popular belief, no one breed of animal is better suited to therapy animal work than another. Focus on the individual animal: whether they’re easy going, friendly, and social, and whether they have a close relationship with their handler, and you can pick out a true therapy animal from a crowd.

On National Therapy Animal Day (Sunday, April 30), we celebrate all therapy animals and their amazing work. We celebrate that regardless of breed, upbringing and past ownership, some animals have an incredible gift for being with people—to help ease their pain, their stress. And who is better qualified for this work than a former shelter dog… who has gone through their own journey of learning the pure and powerful healing of touch, the fun of play, of laughing. Sometimes the presence of “man’s best friend” is just what the doctor ordered.

If you have a rescue dog you think might excel at therapy work, visit the Pet Partners website for more information on how to become a team.

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Natalie Pond

Natalie Pond is the marketing and strategic partnerships coordinator for Pet Partners.

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